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Flanagan in 1939
August 27, 1890
Redfield, South Dakota
|Died||June 23, 1969
Old Tappan, New Jersey
|Alma mater||Harvard University, Vassar College, Grinnell College|
|Occupation||Theatrical producer, director, playwright, author|
|Known for||Leading the Federal Theatre Project|
Hallie Flanagan Davis (August 27, 1890 in Redfield, South Dakota – June 23, 1969 in Old Tappan, New Jersey) was an American theatrical producer and director, playwright, and author, best known as director of the Federal Theatre Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Born Hallie Ferguson in Redfield, South Dakota, Flanagan was raised in Grinnell, Iowa. After attending Grinnell College, she enrolled in George Pierce Baker's influential 47 Workshop class at Radcliffe College / Harvard University. This class, one of the first of its kind at an American university, taught playwrighting. While at Radcliffe and later at Vassar College, Flanagan began developing her own ideas for experimental theatre.
In 1926, Flanagan accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship to study theatre in Europe. While there, she met some of the most influential figures in theatre including John Galsworthy, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Edward Gordon Craig and Lady Gregory. Returning to Vassar, she began to institute many of her new-found ideas with the Vassar Experimental Theatre, which she created. Flanagan rose to national prominence after producing the theatrical adaptation she co-wrote, Can You Hear Their Voices?, based on the short story written by Whittaker Chambers for The New Masses in 1931.
Federal Theatre Project
With the onset of the Great Depression, and masses of people, including theatre folk, out of work, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the WPA to provide jobs for many of the unemployed. Among the numerous segments of this program was the Federal Theatre Project aimed at employing out-of-work entertainers. In September 1935, WPA head Harry Hopkins, who knew Flanagan from Grinnell College and had read Flanagan's 1928 book, Shifting Scenes of the European Theatre, asked Flanagan to lead this program.
Flanagan's vision for the Project was to bring theatre to the great majority of the American public who had never witnessed it, plus producing cutting-edge high-quality theatrical material. This program involved creating children's theatre as well as Living Newspaper plays, based on German director Erwin Piscator's concepts, that would reach out to the culturally unaware. Though the program enabled the creation of a number of fine works, some argued over political agendas being delivered by plays. Concerns over works with messages deemed to be communistic and socialistic plagued Flanagan and the Theatre Project. Flanagan was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1938. After four years, the Federal Theatre Project was shut down and Flanagan returned to Vassar.
In 1942, Flanagan accepted a post as head of the theatre department at Smith College and remained there until her retirement.
Flanagan's first husband, Murray Flanagan, died in 1918. In 1934, she married Philip Davis, a professor of Greek at Vassar.
- Can You Hear Their Voices?
- Living Newspaper
- Vassar College
- Federal Theatre Project
- Works Progress Administration
- Hallie Flanagan papers, 1923–1963, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Library of Congress – Can You Hear Their Voices? (1931)
- Bio of Hallie Flanagan from a site on the Federal Theatre Project
- Vassar Encyclopedia entry for Hallie Flanagan Davis
- Hallie Flanagan entry on WomenArts.org