Workers’ Theater Movement By Filewod, Alan
The Workers’ Theatre Movement (WTM) was an international project, largely promoted by the Workers International Relief, to conjoin left militant radical theaters during the period of Stalin’s “Third Period” militant class struggle; it was also briefly the name of a workers’ troupe in London. The historical shape of the WTM follows the ideological progress of the Communist International (Comintern), from the hard left turn in 1929 to the collaborative politics of the Popular Front in 1933–1934. As proposed by its ideological leaders and principal activists, the Workers’ Theatre Movement was evidence of the transnational emergence of a proletarian culture derived from the universal modernity of industrialism. In practice, the movement was an aggregate of practices and theories drawn into the semblance of an organization through the cultural apparatus of the Comintern.
The Workers’ Theatre Movement was both a loose international alliance and a range of local experiences that varied greatly. In metropolitan centers, the workers’ troupes occupied a gradient ranging from militant street theaters, such as Ewan MacColl’s Red Megaphone in Birmingham, UK and the Shock Troupe of the Workers’ Laboratory Theatre in New York, to the radical edges of the professional theater, such as the Group Theatre in New York and Unity Theatre in London. Outside of major theatrical centres, WTM troupes were more often organized by radical unions, or, as in the case of the Toronto Workers’ Experimental Theatre, by Communist Party cultural clubs.