Elizabeth Osborne to read at 3rd Annual FSU Author Day
Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies Dr. Elizabeth Osborne will be participating in the 3rd Annual FSU Author Day on Friday, March 23 in the Augustus Turnbull Conference Center. There will be a book signing from 4:30 – 5:30 which will be followed at 5:30 by a reading from her book, Staging the People: Community & Identity in the Federal Theatre Project. The reception is free and open to the public; other FSU authors reading at the event include Joseph Hellweg, Ned Stuckey-French, and Wayne Wiegand.
Osborne has a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park, an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy from Brandeis University, and a B.A. in Theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University. Her research interests focus on early twentieth century American theatre, particularly the Federal Theatre Project, the relationship between theatre and its surrounding community, and the intersections of theatre, math, and science. She has presented her research at numerous conferences and her work has been published in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Theatre Symposium, and Theatre History Studies. She pioneered a hybrid version of Introduction to Theatre for Non-Majors at FSU, and also teaches courses in American Theatre, Play Analysis, and Dramaturgy.
Staging the People: Community and Identity in the Federal Theatre Project is available for check out in Strozier Library (STROZIER LIBRARY General Collection 5th Floor -- PN2270.F43O83 2011) and is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
We sat down with Dr. Osborne to ask her about her book and the process behind it.
SOT: Tell us a little bit about your book from which you will be reading at the FSU Author Day.
EO: Staging the People: Community and Identity in the Federal Theatre Project is about my search for the heart of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) - the only national theatre that has ever existed in the USA. Scholars often think of the FTP as a controversial and problematic arts project that is one of the great "successful failures" of the Great Depression; it's become a symbol that embodies the reason that government and the theatre will never happily coexist in this country.
I argue that the FTP was much more than that. As my research has shown, it was a national "federation of theatres," dedicated to creating, presenting, and preserving locally relevant theatre throughout the country. In looking at the work of the FTP outside of New York City (where most of the high profile, controversial work took place), I've found ways that the FTP created theatre that represented coal miners in West Virginia, entertained flood victims during one of the most devastating floods the country has ever endured, and created community theatres in rural Georgia. The FTP staged the American people in a way that has never been duplicated; its mark on the theatre - and the nation - endures.
SOT: Talk a little bit about your inspiration for the book.
EO: I first became interested in the Federal Theatre Project when I heard what I think of as one of the great stories in US Theatre History - that of the infamous production of The Cradle Will Rock. If you've seen the Tim Robbins' film of the same name, you know much of this story; it seemed like such a miscarriage of justice - the censorship, the manipulation, the way that all the unions abandoned this theatre - that I was outraged. I decided to look into it more and found myself inspired by National Director Hallie Flanagan's memoir of the FTP, Arena. I soon found that it wasn't the splashy stories like The Cradle Will Rock that captivated me; instead, I wanted to know more about the huge pageants in Arkansas, the radio plays that attracted audiences of more than 10 million people each week, the circus in the park, the children's theatre that united roller skating beavers and Mother Goose, and much more. But these stories weren't a part of the record; the history was incomplete and, in some cases, just plain wrong, so I felt compelled to step into the void.
SOT: Am I correct that your dissertation for your PhD was about the Federal Theatre Project?
EO: Yes, the book is a major revision of my dissertation, with additional chapters, archival information, and more. I've also published several articles on the FTP and presented more than a dozen papers at national and international conferences over the last 8 years.
SOT: Do you have any interesting stories from your research for the book?
EO: At one point, I was trying to find information on the FTP activities in Portland, Oregon, and had hit a wall. George Mason University has this fabulous oral history collection, and they had one oral history that looked like it would be enormously helpful, but it was closed during the lifetime of the speaker. So I set out to find the speaker - Nick Chaivoe - so that I could either prove he had passed away or convince him to talk to me and release the records. Looking around online, I found a Nick Chaivoe who had been a prominent lawyer in Oregon, even arguing a case before the Supreme Court, but nothing in his past suggested that he had worked professionally in the theatre as a young man. I ended up calling every Chaivoe in the state of Oregon, hoping someone would know whether there was a connection between my 1930s actor and the 1980s lawyer. I eventually found Nick's daughter, who confirmed that the two Nick Chaivoe's were one and the same. She also said that her father had always refused to talk about the Great Depression, so she knew little about that decade of his life. I was able to connect her to the folks at George Mason University, who sent her a copy of the transcripts (70+ pages) and the taped interview with her father. For me, the revelations in that oral history provided a turning point in my research; for Nick's daughter, it was a chance to learn something she'd never known about her father.
On a completely different note: As I was researching city ordinances in Birmingham, Alabama, trying to determine whether there was a recorded law against theatrical performances with interracial casts in the 1930s, I learned that it was illegal to tether a giraffe to a telephone pole within city limits.
SOT: Anything else that you’d like to add?
EO: I hope to see some of FSU's wonderfully supportive theatre students, faculty, staff, and patrons at the book reading!