Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf

Second Advisor

Dr. William C. Pratt


In January, 1936, Ethiopia, a play which is dramatized by the events leading up to the Italo-Ethiopian War, was scheduled to open in New York. It was to be the first in a series of “living newspaper” plays funded by the Federal Government under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project, a preforming arts branch of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The opening night, however, never came as the production was canceled by Administration officials who publicly stated that foreign heads of state could not be depicted on stage in federally-funded production. This thesis attempts to determine the reasons behind the Government’s censorship of Ethiopia in an effort to discover the political motives behind the closing of the production; motives which eventually contributed to the closing of the entire Federal Theatre Project only after four years of operation. Chapter One presents a background into the development of the Federal Theatre Project, particularly in reference to the evolution of an innovative documentary drama known as the Living Newspaper. Documentary dramas, as defined by Attilio Faccorini, are, “plays characterized by central or exclusive reliance on actual rather than imaginary effect[s], on dialogue “found” in the historical record or gathered by the playwright/researcher, and by a disposition to set individual behavior in an articulated political and/or social environment”. In order to place the production of Ethiopia in an proper historical perspective, Chapter One discusses the events which led to the invasion of Ethiopia by Italian forces. The chapter ends with an in-depth investigation into the ensuing censorship of the play. Chapter Two is a comparative study of the two versions of the script Ethiopia in an effort to find a correlation between the text and censorship. The first script, or rough draft is deposited in the National Archives, while the second, or more widely known version, was published in 1968. Finally, Chapter Three concentrates on the visual aspects of the production. Included with this discussion are reproductions of the original preliminary scene designs which were discovered during the research for this project and which are seen here for the first time since the closing of Ethiopia.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Dramatic Arts and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1993 Michael J. McCandless.

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