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May 2, 1931

The Experimental Theatre produced Can You Hear Their Voices? by Hallie Flanagan and Margaret Clifford,’29. Focusing on the effects of a devastating Arkansas drought on the lives of ordinary people, the play anticipated the documentary movement of the 1930s and the literature of social protest. Its experimental technique foreshadowed the Living Newspapers developed by Flanagan and her colleagues later in the decade for the Federal Theatre Project.

Writing in The New York Times, Poughkeepsie lawyer—and later, Flanagan’s associate in the FTP—Emmett Lavery found the play’s origins in “what Professor Hallie Flanagan saw the Russian propaganda theatres do about similar tragedies…. Out of the front page news of the past few months…Flanagan and her students have fashioned in seven scenes the narrative of the dirt farmers who starved while Congress dilly-dallied on the dole.

“Strictly speaking, this was not the Vassar Female College of Matthew Vassar presenting an all-female cast in a political charade, but a hard-hitting play of a modern college theatre with college and town men providing the masculine menace. It has made the faculty think and some of the alumnae gasp. Well, they ought to.”

The Years