Outdoor Theatre and the New Deal

During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt created many different public programs in effort to get people back to work. One of the more successful programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, which provided work for unemployed, unmarried men between 17 and 28. Some of their projects included planting nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, upgrade most state parks, and building a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas. However, in at least two instances, CCC camps built amphitheaters that would be home to outdoor dramas, and continue to be used today. These two amphitheaters are Mountain Theatre in California and Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.

The Mountain Theatre, also known as the Cushing Memorial Theatre, is located in Mount Tamalpais State Park just north of San Francisco. It was built in a natural amphitheater in the 1930s and can seat 4,000 people on the massive serpentine stones the CCC installed. The Mountain Play Association produces plays each year at the Mountain Theatre. These productions pre-date the theatre by nearly 20 years, beginning in 1913 with the production of Abraham and Isaac. There has been a production every year since then, with the exception of 1942 to 1945 when the grounds were in use by the United States Army. The Institute’s archives has correspondence, publicity information, programs, and photographs about Mountain Theatre and Mountain Play Association.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre in located near Morrison, Colorado, about 15 miles west of Denver. The amphitheater is surrounded by large red rocks, which have been named “Creation Rock” to the north, “Ship Rock” to the south, and “Stage Rock” to the east. Construction began in 1936 with the help of the CCC and the Works Progress Administration, and was completed in 1941. The CCC camp, Mount Morrison camp is one of the few that remains intact. The information the Institute’s archives has dates to as early as the 1950s. Unlike most other files, Red Rocks Amphitheatre file does not have information relating to a specific company or production. The amphitheatre was, and continues to be, a place where a variety of shows were performed including symphony and band concerts, operettas, and pageant plays.

As we continue to process the materials, if we come across any other theaters built during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal programs we will share them. Have you attended any performances at either the Mountain Theatre or Red Rocks Amphitheatre? Were you aware that they were built as part of the New Deal? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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