Can You Hear Their Voices?
by Northwest Vista Community College

Nov. 12 - Nov. 21, 2015

A drama written and set in 1931, at the beginning of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drought that affected thousands of American farmers. This story juxtaposes the plight of poor farmers against the lavish lifestyles of Washington elite.  Can You Hear Their Voices? is a significant play about American history that is rarely produced.



Can You Hear Their Voices?

(photo via Northwest Vista College & SATCO)

Cast/Crew: Directed by Mellissa Marlowe, and performed by Northwest Vista College Drama students.


The short story derives from a news story in January 1931 about tenant farmers in Arkansas, who raided a local Red Cross office to feed themselves. Chambers picked up on a common fear of the moment, namely, that this event marked the beginning of further popular uprisings in the face of drought and depression. In his story, the farmers have in their midst a quiet, dignified man—a communist—who unites them so that they take food by gunpoint, opposing the town’s top businessman. The play changed the short story’s outcome in Arkansas from armed to non-violent confrontation and ends with a question, Can you hear what the farmers are saying, and what will you do about it.”



This play is one of the earliest examples of Agitprop theatre in the U.S. It also is a forerunner of the "Living Newspaper" theatrical form in the U.S.--which Flanagan herself championed as head of the Federal Theatre Project later in the decade.[3] (Proletcult Theatreinfluenced both Agitprop theatre and Living Newspaper; Proletcult thus influenced all three.) "Can You Hear Their Voices, which Flanagan produced in Vassar's experimental theater, became the prototype for Living Newspapers."[3]

Chambers described the story's impact in the 1930s in his memoirs:

It had a success far beyond anything that it pretended to be. It was timely. The New York World-Telegram spotted it at once and wrote a piece about it. International Publishers, the official Communist publishing house, issued it as a pamphlet. Lincoln Steffenshailed it in an effusion that can be read in his collected letters. Hallie Flanagan, then head of Vassar's Experimental Theater, turned it into a play. In a few months, the little story had been translated even into Chinese and Japanese and was being played in workers' theaters all over the world.[4]

In 2010, Broadway World noted: "Chambers' true tale of desperate tenant farmers inspired a play that was ahead of its time: it predates John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by eight years and Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty by four.[5]



[poster image from U. Washington]

Can You Hear Their Voices?
by Hallie Flanagan and Margaret Ellen Clifford, story by Whittaker Chambers
Northwest Vista Community College

November 12 - November 21, 2015
Palmetto Center for the Arts at Northwest Vista College
3535 North Ellison Drive
San Antonio, TX, 78251
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm
Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2:30 pm
Location: 3535 N. Ellison Dr., San Antonio, Texas, 78251-4217
Tickets: $8 general, $5 faculty, staff, SATCO, military, and seniors, $3 all students
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