The Living News Project

At the Intersection of Journalism and Theater

 The Living News Project is a collaborative venture inspired by the WPA Federal Theater Project’s “Living Newspapers,” In 1935, when the federal government put together unemployed theater artists with unemployed journalists, what emerged were large-scale plays that offered audiences an exciting, accessible alternative to the commercial theater of the day. Living Newspapers were unique collaborations focusing on social and political issues, and for a short time they served, in a way, as our national theater and an outlet for local news. Living Newspaper productions toured the country, met by writing “units” in various cities that adapted the scripts to keep them local and up to date. They were always hot off the press. Arthur Miller called them “the greatest invention of theater in our time.”

The Living Newspapers were not strict documentaries. Rather, the scripts balanced hard statistics with human-interest stories revealing intimate scenes of “the little man,” to give audiences vivid images of the effects headline stories had on individual lives. It is no wonder that this agitprop style emerged, as Living Newspapers were the invention of Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theater Project, who admired the theatrical experiments of Bertolt Brecht and Edwin Piscator. Flanagan was passionate that a Federal Theater Project should participate, unflinchingly, in the civic discourse of the country.

 What would a 21st Century Living Newspaper look like?

This compelling question has led to the formation of The Living News Project, and to SHELTER/CHICAGO, our first “edition.”  Chicago area journalists, artists, and students have been working with staff and residents at Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO), a homeless shelter in the Uptown neighborhood, to create the play. In snappy, poetic documentary style, SHELTER/CHICAGO investigates the tangled knot of social and political causes leading to homelessness by listening to the stories of people living on our streets. A journalistic investigation, SHELTER/CHICAGO challenges us all to consider our own responses to the issue of homelessness, as well as how the media reports the story, and how we determine what we label as “news” in our time. This work echoes the work of the Federal Theater Project, making something with deep roots brand new. SHELTER/CHICAGO is designed to ignite civic dialogue.

 SHELTER/CHICAGO produced at The Chicago Cultural Center

After a series of developmental readings, The Living News Project presented a fully staged reading of SHELTER/CHICAGO in collaboration with The Illinois Humanities Council in April of 2014. “Written Off?”  was an unprecedented two-part event in which the play propelled a complex public discussion moderated by Sun Times columnist Laura Washington. What is the role of a citizen? What are the journalists’ responsibilities? By raising questions that are often unasked in a public forum, “Written Off?” inspired a compelling civic conversation about journalism and the complex issue of homelessness.

The future of The Living News Project’s SHELTER productions - bring The Living News Project to your community:

The work of The Living News Project is designed to be replicated and made new in other cities around the country. In order to accomplish this, The Living News Project is working to create "SHELTER" “units,” comprised of journalists, students, artists, and community partners, to investigate homelessness in their home communities and create theatrical living newspapers.  The Living News Project is dedicated to examining national issues by provoking direct, live, local dialogue. Click here to contact me for more information about The Living News Project.

The  Click here to go to a gallery of photos and videos of SHELTER/CHICAGO.