The Merle Reskin Theater (Previously The Blackstone Theater)
On the week of March 8th, 1936 The Chicago Daily Tribune published an article announcing the emergence of The Federal Theatre Project at two major theaters in Chicago. The first was The Great Northern, and the second was The Blackstone Theater. Prior to the FTPs acquisition of the theater, the Blackstone had fallen into a state of disrepair after seeing years of profit and popularity. The occupation from the FTP guaranteed the use of the space for eight weeks, but allowed for an extension of four additional weeks. History shows, however, that the program greatly outlasted the extension.
During its residence in The Blackstone Theater, the Federal Theatre Project sought to use the theater as both a rehearsal and performance space. The project allowed for ninety percent of the employees to be pulled from actors on relief, while the remaining ten percent could be filled with, “…prominent guest players” (Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 20). Throughout the life of the FTP the Blackstone Theater was responsible for housing over twenty productions.
The FTP opened its doors to the audience with its first production at the Blackstone, A Texas Steer. by Charles H. Hoyt. The production was described as, “…a farce satirizing politics of an earlier period” (Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 20). The federal project was described in an article by the Chicago Defender as having, “…a capable staff…” (“Theater Project To Present First Play, p.11). The FTP then went on to produce plays such as Broken Dishes, which saw so much popularity it ran for seventeen consecutive weeks. It also featured a trilogy of Shakespearean plays including Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet.
The FTP found controversy under scrutiny of HUAC when it was suspected that the project was working as more of a parasite than a profit, sucking tax money from Chicago. The FTPs final production, As You Like It, was prematurely cut short when the project was unceremoniously shut down in July, 1939.
Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): Jul 2, 1939; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1990) pg. 3 THE WPA WASTE IN CHICAGO: SCANDAL BARED IN HOUSE RAZING, THEATER COSTS City Profit Exposed in Wre… Edwards, Willard Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); May 20, 1939; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1990) pg. 1 The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967): Jul 18, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspaper: Chicago Defender (1910-1975) pg. 10 The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967): Apr. 1, 1939, ProQuest Historical Newspaper: Chicago Defender (1930-1975) pg. 7 Federal Drama Bureau Will Reopen Two Chicago Theaters: WPA Produces … Collins, Charles Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Mar 8, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1990) pg. E2 PWA Theater Unit Leases Blackstone for Its Productions Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Feb 12, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1990) pg. 20 "Merle Reskin Theatre." DePaul Theatre. DePaul University, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Project originally submitted by Cody Ryan on December 17, 2013.
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