Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Cradle Will Rock Was Used For an Open Debate Among Students

The Cradle Will Rock is a 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project, it was directed by Orson Welles, and produced by John Houseman. The musical is an allegory of corruption and corporate greed. Set in "Steeltown, USA", it follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize the town's workers and combat wicked, greedy businessman Mr. Mister, who controls the town's factory, press, church and social organization. The piece is almost entirely sung-through, giving it many operatic qualities, although Blitzstein included popular song styles of the time.

The production was shut down four days before its opening by the Work Progress Administration, which stated that due to budget cuts, the WPA was reorganizing its arts projects, and all openings of WPA plays, musicals, concerts, and art galleries were to be delayed until after July 1, however, many asserted that the musical had been censored because the pro-union plot was "too radical". The theatre was padlocked and surrounded by security to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as these were considered U. S. Government property. Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein, seeking a way to privately produce the show, rented the much larger Venice Theatre and a piano just in time for the scheduled preview on June 16, 1937. The 600 audience members, who had gathered outside the Maxine Elliot Theatre for the preview, traveled 21 blocks north to the Venice Theatre; many were on foot. The sold-out house grew even larger when the show's creators invited people off the street to attend for free.To avoid government and union restrictions, the show was performed with Blitzstein playing piano onstage and the cast members singing their parts from the audience. It was a bold decision for every actor since taking this stance could have ruined their careers. Orson Wells and John Houseman were fired for insubordination. They then formed their own, Mercury Theater Company, which would later produce the radio play War of the Worlds which put Orson Wells on the map allowing him to later direct the movie Citizen Kane using many actors from the Mercury Theater troupe.

Though attempts might be made, it is hard to silence creativity in a democratic society. But it might take one frail voice to make that stand. Students sat in a circle on the empty stage reliving the events in 1937. It is hard to imagine remaining silent when social media makes expressing any idea so easy. Yet who honestly ever swims upstream. We do all we can to swim downstream in school formation.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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