The Cradle Will Rock
Blitzstein in rehearsal

"The theatre, when it's good, is always dangerous"

The opening night at the Maxine Elliott Theatre in New York was finally set for June 16th 1937. Nevertheless uncertainty over the production, given the expected WPA cuts, was prevalent. Political tensions in the real world were also on the increase, following a confrontation between police and striking steel workers in South Chicago, which had resulted in the shooting of ten strikers by the police, seven of whom had been shot in the back.

On June 10th, the long-expected word came from the WPA in Washington: huge cuts, redundancies, and no new openings before July 1st. Federal Theatre press agents phoned the newspapers and ticket holders to confirm the cancellation. But at the same time, Houseman's office were phoning the same people to say that the show would definitely take place and to await further information.

On the day of the opening, the Maxine Elliott theatre was sealed off by security guards and Welles and Houseman were informed that Actors Equity would not permit any of their members to appear on stage, and that the Musicians Union had imposed conditions making it impossible to have an orchestra in the pit.

Welles and Houseman were determined that the show should go ahead, even without sets, costumes, lights, orchestra or cast. But they would need a theatre and a piano. A battered upright was quickly found, shoved into a van, the driver being given a few bucks and the instruction to keep driving around the block.

With afternoon turning to evening, and crowds gathering, no theatre had been found. Then at close to eight o'clock, the Venice theatre on 59th street was offered. The rental fee was instantly found, and the growing throng told to head up 7th Avenue. With most travelling by foot, the audience strolled some twenty blocks uptown, gathering curious onlookers along the way. By nine o'clock every one of the Venice theatre’s 1742 seats was filled.