Connecting to the Past and Present

This page contains post-show discussion questions and a classroom exercise that uses the themes present in Here’s the Deal to connect the New Deal era to the modern day.

Exercise: A Living, Breathing Newspaper

Download a PDF of this exercise

Subject(s): History, Theatre, English  

Goals: Students will be able to:  

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation.  
  • Apply narrative techniques, such as dialog, description, and pacing to develop experiences or characters.  
  • Articulate their values for their community and make arguments in their favor.  
  • Apply civic virtues and democratic principles to make collaborative decisions.  
  • Identify contemporary political issues through discussion.  

Show Connection:   

In Here’s the Deal, Mrs. Day asks the students to make connections between their current situation and the figures who advocated for and against the New Deal. To better understand the present and future, we must first understand who and what came before us and the work that they did.   

Several scenes are inspired by the techniques of the Living Newspaper and Newspaper Theater.   

Additional Resources to Explore:  

The Living Newspaper – Federal Theatre Project (Library of Congress)  

Theatre of the Oppressed NYC  


Divide the students into groups of equal sizes in breakout rooms that will take place later in the lesson. (We recommend doing this ahead of time for the sake of saving time, focusing on the exercise, and having fun with the students.)  


Part 1: Icebreaker   

Discuss with students their thoughts on the current states of the world, the country and their own circumstances.

  • What is on your mind these days?
  • What is in the news that is keeping your thoughts occupied?
  • Do you feel like you have spaces and opportunities to voice how you feel about whatever might be on your mind? 
  • When you can voice your views on a matter do you voice them whole heartily?
  • Do you communicate in one method better than another? (Physically, verbally, artistically, musically, visually, etc.)  

Part 2: Living Newspaper  

Teach students a bit about the Living Newspaper form of theater:  

  • “The Living Newspaper is a dramatization of a problem – composed in greater or lesser extent of many news events, all bearing on the one subject and [interlaced] with typical but non-factual representations of the effect of these news events on the people to whom the problem is of great importance.” — Arthur Arent, attributed author of many of the FTP’s Living Newspapers.  
  • A Living Newspaper is a theatrical production consisting of dramatizations of current events, social problems, and controversial issues, with appropriate suggestions for improvement.  
  • The Living Newspaper as a style of theatre was initiated in the United States in 1935 as part of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a program that started as a result of the New Deal.  
  • Akin to the Theatre of the Oppressed founded by Brazilian theater practitioner and politician Augusto Boal as well as Epic Brechtian theater techniques developed by German theater practitioner Bertolt Brecht. These included quick scene and set changes, flexibility of stage space, using many levels, rolling and hand-carried scenery, projections of settings, statistics, and film, shadow play, sound effects and full musical scores, the use of a speaker to narrate and comment on the action and abrupt blackouts and harsh spotlights. These techniques served to intentionally distance the audience from what they were watching. In being constantly reminded that what they were watching was crafted, audience members would never be allowed sit back. Instead, they’d be invited to lean forward, invited to dissect the issues portrayed.   
  • Living Newspaper pieces often featured the use of puppetry, modern dance, and pantomime. In terms of dramatic construction, directors frequently urged writers and designers to keep the concept of counterpoint in mind when constructing Living Newspapers—alternating quickly between scenes and voices displaying contrasting viewpoints, to comment on the action and keep the audience involved and aware.  
  • This form of theater highlights the value of drama as an instrument of social change. It became the most effective new theater form developed by the FTP, vividly dealing, in flashing cinematic techniques, with the realities of agriculture, housing, and economics throughout the United States in the 1930s.  

Part 3: Creating Living Newspapers   

Before sending students into breakout groups, provide them with the following instructions:  

Students will be given sufficient time to devise and practice a one-minute-long Living Newspaper-style theatrical piece that utilizes the digital classroom space (playing with camera angles, virtual platform features, etc.), bringing their assigned quotes into a present-day context of their choice. Every student in each group must be involved in their group’s performance.   

  • “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  
  • “It is not the nature of man, as I see it, ever to be quite satisfied with what he has in life…. Contentment tends to breed laxity, but a healthy discontent keeps us alert to the changing needs of our time.” – Frances Perkins  
  • “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” – Eleanor Roosevelt  
  • “We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.” – Mary McLeod Bethune  
  • “What constitutes an American? An American is one who will fight for his freedom and that of his neighbor. An American is one who will sacrifice… An American is one in whose heart is engraved the immortal second sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Americans have always known how to fight for their rights and their way of life. Americans are not afraid to fight. They fight joyously in a just cause.” – Harold Ickes  

Bring the groups back together to present their pieces.  

If the instructor feels the groups fell short of expectations send them back with their groups for revision.   


Students may also create Living Newspaper pieces that pull quotes from today’s headlines and their own communities. These could be constructed with groups or as individuals.  


  • What benefits do you see in discussing history, the news of the day, or problems that present themselves in the world in the Living Newspaper format? Why might reenactment be a powerful tool in conveying the news?   
  • What issues in the communities that you are a part of do you think could be served well by unpacking them via the Living Newspaper or Theatre of the Oppressed Techniques?  

Exercise: Individual vs. Collective

Download a PDF of this exercise

Subject(s): History, Theater, English  

Goals: Students will be able to:  

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation.  
  • Evaluate the evolving and changing role of government.  
  • Keep eye contact with the audience, adjust volume, tone, and rate, be aware of postures and gestures and use a natural tone.  

Show Connection:   

In Here’s the Deal, the students of the present and the figures of the past both come to terms with the concept that to survive and progress through tough times, collective action is needed. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper…We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well.”  



Divide the students into four groups of equal size in breakout rooms sessions that will take place later in the lesson. (We recommend dividing groups ahead of time for efficiency, an ability to focus on the exercise and to get to the fun as quickly as possible.)   

Label each breakout group as either a group focused on “Individual Liberty” or on “Collective Good.”   


Part 1: Opening   

As a class, discuss “How does a society balance individual freedom with governmental power?” Resist the urge to give them definitive answers here. This is about them exploring open-ended ideas rather than locking down on anything at this point in the exercise.   

Send students to their respective breakout rooms. Each group has five minutes to produce a definition for their assigned concept (individual freedom or collective good) and three examples from day-to-day life of that concept’s application. Groups should be prepared to share their definitions and examples with the rest of the class.   

Bring the students back together and have each group share their definition and real-life examples of the concept. (Be sure to remind students that we are not here to argue if one of these concepts is better than the other. The two concepts need one another. )  

  • Where and when does individual liberty take greater importance than collective good? The other way around?
  • Is there more collective good or individual liberty in your home? At school? Your job?   

Part 2: Alien Invasion  

Introduce the following scenario to the students: Aliens have landed in 20 cities across the US and are demanding we give them half of all people under 25 so they can repopulate their alien planet.  

Send the students back to their respective breakout rooms. They now must create a compelling argument for their perspective (either individual freedom or collective good.) They must argue their stance before all of humanity – “Now is the time for us to work together!” or “Now is the time for each of us to fight our own fight!” Each group should use whatever tools they have with their classroom virtual platform to make the most convincing argument possible for their approach to the invasion.   

Once groups are prepared, close the breakout rooms and give groups the opportunity to share their persuasive presentations. As pieces are presented, discuss the merits and shortcomings of proposed arguments and sales pitches (both the substance of their arguments and the presentations of them)   

As a class, collaboratively create an “alien invasion response plan” utilizing elements of both the students’ “individual liberty” and “collective good.” The group must come to an agreement. You may propose something like this:   

We will know we our plan is ready for implementation when we have a five point (or five sentence plan) of attack for how we will operate in the world that finds a balance between individual liberties and care for the collective good.   

Discuss with students: “It took us a while, but I think we’re mostly content with this, right? We found a balance between caring for the individual and caring for the community in our alien invasion response plan. But – every time a community changes, every time a community is confronted with a new situation or problem, the balancing act between the individual and the collective must be renegotiated and rewritten. Why do you think this balance is so difficult to achieve?   

  • This kind of compromise seems to be required when confronting every major issue in American history. (Reconciliation following the Civil War, affordable and accessible healthcare, and economic stimulus packages for those in need to name a few.) The process is always complicated and frustrating and sometimes never resolves itself. It can be a discouraging process; compromise rarely means you get everything you hoped for.   
  • The US Constitution’s preamble suggests that we are working to ‘form a more perfect union,’ not an actually perfect one. Perfection isn’t possible. But the work of compromise, reevaluation, of caring for each citizen, will allow our nation to achieve a more perfect union.”   


  • What parts of your own life do you feel require constant compromise for better or worse? Where does compromise not exist in your life but wish it did?  
  • Is it easier or harder to find compromises among larger groups? Why or why not?  

Exercise: Posing Questions of an Era

Download a PDF of this exercise

Subject(s): History, Theater, English  

Goals: Students will be able to:  

  • Promote collaboration with others both inside and outside the classroom.  
  • Exercise their agency as members of the classroom community.  
  • Articulate their values for their community and make arguments in their favor.  
  • Distinguish one’s own ideas from information created or discovered by others.   
  • Demonstrate nonverbal techniques including, but not limited to, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and stance.  

Show Connection:   

In Here’s the Deal, Mrs. Day asks the students to make connections between their current situation and the situations that led to the development of the New Deal. Before any of us can make those kinds of connections, we must understand our current situation better.  


United States History Timeline  

World History Timeline


Divide the students into groups of equal sizes for breakout rooms sessions that will take place later in the lesson. (We recommend doing this ahead of time for the sake of saving time, focusing on the exercise, and having fun with the students.)  


Part 1: Brainstorming It   

Using the chat feature on your remote learning platform, as a class brainstorm a list of notable events / instances / phenomena (political, economic, social, etc.) that students feel have left a distinct impression on citizens over the past six years. These could be historical events, passing fads, statements that people have said. Encourage students to get creative and really dive into the ocean that is their memory with this brainstorming session.   

  • This number can be adapted to whatever best suits the needs of the classroom. This could also cover specific eras of history currently being studied, specific novels, characters etc.  

Using the chat feature (or a Nearpod collaboration board or a Padlet board), work together to brainstorm a list of specific emotions and states of being that you feel might best label some of the events. (Remind students that there is no right or wrong way to feel for any of the options listed in the first brainstorm. We all experience things in very different ways and no person’s emotional responses are invalid.)  

Part 2: Physicalizing It   

  • Ask students to stand up and to find a spot in the room that gives them room to move.   
  • The teacher then selects an event from the brainstorming session and one of the emotional responses to that event listed. Share what you’ve selected with the class.   
  • Explain to the students that you will countdown to one. Once you hit one, the students should jump into a pose, like they’re a statue, that represents someone experiencing the selected event and emotion. Students should use their full body! (Feel it in your fingers! In your shoulders!) If students are not used to participating on camera, time for preparing with cameras off is encouraged. Do several rounds of this, regularly selecting new events and emotions.   
  • If the group is comfortable with each other, you can ask half the group to pose while the other half observes and makes observations before swapping groups out.   

Part 3: Rehearse and Presenting It   

Once they have shown some improvement in showing their emotional responses physically, invite the students to take a seat.   

Instructions to the students may sound like this. “You will be placed in groups to take this to the next level. In these groups, I would like you to identify the five most important and impactful events from this list, the ones that you feel had a significant impact on American citizens over the past six years. As a group, choose five events and corresponding emotions and create a group pose for each of the five events. Each group will present their five poses to the rest of the class. Once you’ve completed your poses, rehearse transitioning from one to the next so you all remember the order. Finally, prepare a title for your presentation. The title should frame the era. What would you call the last six years of American history?   

Send each group into its own breakout room and give them time to prepare (we recommend 10-15 minutes.) Take time with each group to answer questions and to coach them. Things students should consider while preparing their presentations:  

  • Physical relationships: How can you communicate who has the power in the image? Who is emotionally close? How do you accomplish that on a virtual platform?   
  • Camera relationship: How does your proximity to the camera or other objects in your space affect the message of each pose? Would moving the camera to a different level communicate your message more effectively?   
  • Authenticity: Do the poses feel emotionally authentic and respectful? Remember, these are real events that affected real people!   

Once groups have had sufficient rehearsal and coaching time, bring them back together into the main space. Review the criteria you are expecting each group to present.  

Have each group present their pose pieces. Discuss either after each group presents their piece or following the last presentation.  

  • What did you see that you liked? What are you curious to learn more about? What do you have questions for regarding the moments and emotions chosen?  


Students may also work as individuals on this exercise, creating their own personal poses.  

Instead of a series of poses, students may also create a short 10-line poem exploring the range of time in question. Each line of the poem should explore either a different “event” or state of being the population experienced.   


  • Do you feel that the present era has been “defined” in any way? If so, how do you think it has been defined? Is it possible for eras to have different definitions and “keystones” among different populations?  
  • If you were to do this exercise but narrow the focus to just your own life, what moments / events / instances would you choose? What emotions would you say typify your life and the moments that have made it up so far?

Post-Show Discussion Questions

  • In Here’s the Deal, characters are confronted with many things that students may find personally relevant. Virtual school, unemployment, financial uncertainty, questions regarding the nature of our nation. Which did you relate to? Did the characters’ responses to these crises feel authentic to you? Why or why not? Which of the events from the Posing Questions of an Era exercise seemed to affect these characters?   
  • The playwright, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, repeatedly said during the development of the piece that she was struck in doing research on the Great Depression that 2020 wasn’t the first time that people thought the world was ending. How do you see that thought reflected in the piece? Is there hope in that view?   
  • As noted in Here’s the Deal, when Marian Anderson sang “My Country Tis of Thee” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, she made a small but significant change to the text. “Of thee I sing” became “Of thee we sing” (emphasis added.) What does the change of “I” to “we” signify to you? What does it say to you about Ms. Anderson’s vision of America? What are our responsibilities to the collective nation as citizens?   
  • Significant figures from the story of the New Deal are quoted throughout Here’s the Deal. What quotes stuck out to you as being particularly relevant?   
  • The figures all quoted in Here’s the Deal were famous. How do you think quoting less famous, more everyday people may have changed the story?