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Joseph Papp

joseph papp, joseph papp public theater
Joseph "Joe" Papp June 22, 1921 – October 31, 1991 was an American theatrical producer and director He established The Public Theater in what had been the Astor Library Building in lower Manhattan There, Papp created a year-round producing home to focus on new plays and musicals Among numerous examples of these were the works of David Rabe, Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Charles Gordone's No Place to Be Somebody the first off-Broadway play to win the Pulitzer Prize, and Papp's production of Michael Bennett's Pulitzer Prize–winning musical, A Chorus Line3 Papp also founded Shakespeare in the Park, helped to develop other off-Broadway theatres and worked to preserve the historic Broadway Theatre District


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
    • 21 Founder of the Public Theater
    • 22 Outdoor performances at the Delacorte Theatre
    • 23 Fostering the growth of New York theatre
  • 3 "Save the Theatres" effort
  • 4 Death
  • 5 Legacy
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 External links

Early lifeedit

Papp was born Joseph Papirofsky in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Yetta née Miritch, a seamstress, and Samuel Papirofsky, a trunkmaker4 His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia The 2010 documentary film Joe Papp in Five Acts says his mother was a Lithuanian Jew, and his father a Polish Jew He was a high school student of Harlem Renaissance playwright Eulalie Spence


Papp founded the New York Shakespeare Festival now called Shakespeare in the Park in 1954, with the aim of making Shakespeare's works accessible to the public In 1957, he was granted the use of Central Park for free productions of Shakespeare's plays These Shakespeare in the Park productions continue after his death at the open-air Delacorte Theatre every summer in Central Park3

Founder of the Public Theateredit

The Joseph Papp Public Theater

Papp spent much of his career promoting his idea of free Shakespeare in New York City3 His 1956 production of Taming of the Shrew, outdoors in the East River Amphitheatre on New York's Lower East Side, was pivotal for Papp, primarily because critic Brooks Atkinson endorsed Papp's vision in The New York Times Actress Colleen Dewhurst, who played the leading character, Kate, recalled the effect of this publicity in an autobiography published posthumously as a collaboration with Tom Viola:

With Brooks Atkinson's blessing, our world changed overnight Suddenly in our audience of neighbors in T-shirts and jeans appeared men in white shirts, jackets and ties, and ladies in summer dresses Suddenly we were "the play to see", and everything changed We were in a hit that would have a positive effect on my career, as well as Joe's, but I missed the shouting I missed the feeling of not knowing what might happen next or how that play would that night move an audience unafraid of talking back

By age 41, after Papp had established a permanent base for his free summer Shakespeare performances in Central Park's Delacorte Theater, an open-air amphitheatre, Papp looked for an all-year theater he could make his own After looking at other locations, he fell in love with the location and the character of Lafayette Street’s Astor Library Papp rented it, in 1967, reportedly for one dollar per year, from the City It was the first building saved from demolition under the New York City landmarks preservation law After massive renovations, Papp moved his staff to the newly named Public Theater, hoping to attract a newer, less conventional audience for new and innovative playwrights

At the Public Theater, Papp's focus moved away from the Shakespeare classics and toward new work Notable Public Theater productions included Charles Gordone’s No Place to Be Somebody the first off-Broadway show, and the first play by an African American, to win the Pulitzer Prize and the plays of David Rabe, Tom Babe and Jason Miller Papp called his productions of Rabe's plays "the most important thing I did at the Public5 Papp's 1985 production of Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart addressed, in its time, the prejudicial political system which was turning its back on the AIDS crisis and the gay community Designer Ming Cho Lee commented: "With the new playwrights, the whole direction of the theater changed but none of us realized for a while The Public Theater became more important than the Delacorte The new playwrights became more interesting to Joe than Shakespeare"citation needed

Among all the plays and musicals that Papp produced, he is perhaps best known for four productions that later transferred to Broadway runs: Hair, The Pirates of Penzance, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf and A Chorus Line3 The last of these originated with a series of taped interviews, at the Public, of dancers' reminiscences, overseen by director/choreographer Michael Bennett Papp had not kept the rights to produce Hair, and he did not gain from its Broadway transfer But he kept the rights to A Chorus Line, and the show's earnings became a continuous financial support for Papp's work It received 12 Tony Award nominations and won nine of them, including Best Musical, in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama It ran for 6,137 performances, becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history up to that time The show pioneered the workshop system for developing musicals, revolutionizing the way Broadway musicals were created thereafter, and many of the precedents for workshops' aesthetics and contract agreements were set by Papp, Bennett and A Chorus Linecitation needed

Outdoor performances at the Delacorte Theatreedit

The Delacorte Theater, home of Shakespeare in the Park

Delacorte Theatre productions introduced many new actors and actresses to outdoor Shakespeare and to New York audiences for free Among the memorable performances including some from before Papp had the Delacorte for his Shakespeare were George C Scott's Obie-award winning Richard III in 1958; Colleen Dewhurst's Kate, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra opposite George C Scott's Mark Antony, and Gertrude; the Prince Hamlet of Stacy Keach opposite Dewhurst's Gertrude with James Earl Jones' King Claudius, Barnard Hughes's Polonius and Sam Waterston's Laertes; Sam Waterston's Hamlet opposite the Gertrude of Ruby Dee with the Laertes of John Lithgow and Andrea Marcovicci's Ophelia; the Benedick and Beatrice of Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes in Much Ado About Nothing with Barnard Hughes's Keystone Kops version of Dogberry; the early work of Meryl Streep as Isabella in Measure for Measure; Mary Beth Hurt as Randall Duk Kim's daughter in Pericles; James Earl Jones as King Lear 1973 with Rosalind Cash and Ellen Holly as his wicked daughters; Raul Julia as Edmund in Jones' 1973 King Lear, as Osric to Keach's Hamlet, and as Proteus in a musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona which transferred to a Broadway run Julia also played Othello with Frances Conroy as his Desdemona and Richard Dreyfuss as Iago And, in 1968, one year before his breakthrough in The Subject was Roses, Martin Sheen played Romeo A complete list of the productions through 1995 is available in Joe Papp: An American Life by Helen Epstein6

Shakespeare in the Park was not exclusively for Shakespeare In the summer of 1977 Gloria Foster was Clytemnestra in the Greek tragedy Agamemnon followed by Raul Julia as Macheath in Richard Foreman's production of Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, which later transferred to Lincoln Center6 Papp was also a Gilbert and Sullivan lover, and in 1980, to commemorate the centenary of The Pirates of Penzance, he mounted a new staging of the opera at the Delacorte The show was a sensation, and Papp transferred it to Broadway, where it ran for over 800 performances It won Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Director Wilford Leach, and Best Actor Kevin Kline Linda Ronstadt was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical3

Papp was a pioneer in a commitment to non-traditional casting, using a variety of ethnicities and colors of actors in his new plays and Shakespeare productions The father of a gay son, Tony, Papp aligned himself with gay and lesbian concerns in at least two specific instances He fought anti-obscenity provisions that Congress briefly imposed on the National Endowment for the Arts during the Reagan Presidency, and he chose to produce The Normal Heart, which decried institutionalized "homophobia" as well as Mayor Koch's response to the AIDS crisis6

Fostering the growth of New York theatreedit

Papp fostered other theatre throughout New York City, in particular the development of numerous Off Broadway theatres, often contributing funds from successful Broadway transfers, such as A Chorus Line These included Theatre for a New Audience, which presented several productions at the Delacourte, and the Riverside Shakespeare Company, in which Papp took a special interest, beginning with the sponsorship of the New York premiere of Brecht's The Life of Edward II of England in 1982, continuing with the financial underwriting of Riverside's New York Parks Tours of Free Shakespeare, including The Comedy of Errors in 1982, Merry Wives of Windsor in 1983, Romeo and Juliet in 1984, and Romeo and Juliet in 19853 In 1983, Papp dedicated the newly renovated theatre of The Shakespeare Center with Helen Hayes7

"Save the Theatres" effortedit

The Golden, Jacobs, Schoenfeld and Booth Theatres on West 45th Street in Manhattan's Theatre District

Papp took a keen interest in preservation of the historic Broadway/Times Square Theater District In the early 1980s, he helped lead the "Save the Theatres" movement, and to found "Save the Theatres, Inc", along with a number of actors, directors, producers and other theatre, film and television personalities8 The movement's aim was to preserve vintage playhouses that were then being threatened with demolition by monied Manhattan development interests6910 Papp's initiative was sparked by the impending demolition in 1982 of the historic Morosco and Helen Hayes theatres, as well as the old Piccadilly Hotel, on West 45th Street11

Although Papp was unsuccessful in saving the Morosco or the Helen Hayes, at his encouragement Congressman Donald J Mitchell of New York introduced legislation in the United States Congress 97th Congress – HR6885 with 13 co-sponsors,a to designate a "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District National Historic Site" in Manhattan The Mitchell bill would have required the United States to provide assistance in the preservation of the historical, cultural, and architectural character of the site and in its restoration It directed the National Park Service to designate theatre preservation sites and other appropriate real property within the site as national historic landmarks if they met the criteria for national historic landmarks, and would have prohibited the demolition or alteration of real property located within the site unless such demolition or alteration would contribute to the preservation, restoration, or enhancement of the site for traditional legitimate theatre purposes Among other things, it would have established a Federally chartered citizens advisory group to be chaired by Papp, known as the "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District Preservation Commission"13 Faced with fierce opposition and extensive lobbying against its passage by Mayor Ed Koch's administration and Manhattan developers,10 the bill was not enacted into law, but the ultimate effect of the "Save the Theatres" effort was to slow destruction of the old Theater District enough to eventually ensure preservation of a number of other historic playhouses and a measure of the District's original atmosphere and historic character141415


Joseph Papp died of prostate cancer at age 70, on October 31, 1991 He is buried in the Baron Hirsch Cemetery on Staten Island16 His son, Tony, died of complications of AIDS only months before Joseph Papp's death Papp was survived by his fourth wife, Gail Merrifield Papp, a partner in the Public Theatre


As a result, in large part to the "Save the Theatres" preservation effort led by Papp in the 1980s, the Theater District remains one of New York City's primary and most popular tourist attractions and destinations today14

In 2000 the Joseph Papp Children's Humanitarian Fund was founded The Fund serves as the humanitarian arm of international Jewish children's club Tzivos Hashem's, activities in the Ukraine Papp co-founded, along with Rabbi Marc Schneier, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to strengthen ties between Blacks and Jews

On April 23, 1992, the Public Theater was renamed The Joseph Papp Public Theater His biography Joe Papp: An American Life was written by journalist Helen Epstein and published in 19966

See alsoedit

  • Edward Cornell


  1. ^ Turan, Kenneth; Papp, Joseph November 2010 Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Every Told Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group p 45 ISBN 978-0-7679-3169-4 Retrieved May 27, 2014 
  2. ^ "Anthony Papp, Jewelry Designer, 29" The New York Times June 4, 1991 Retrieved February 22, 2013 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Turan, Kenneth - "Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Every Told", Knopf Doubleday, November 2010 ISBN 978-0-7679-3169-4
  4. ^ "Joseph Papp Biography 1921–1991" Filmreferencecom Retrieved February 22, 2013 
  5. ^ "Land of Lost Souls," by John Lahr, The New Yorker, November 24, 2008
  6. ^ a b c d e Epstein, Helen March 1, 1996 Joe Papp: An American Life Da Capo pp 403, 554 ISBN 978-0-306-80676-6 Retrieved May 27, 2014 
  7. ^ O'Haire, Patricia "Dickens lends the Bard a Hand", The New York Daily News, 13 September 1982
  8. ^ Shubert Organization, Inc v Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York and Save the Theatres, Inc Archived May 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, May 16, 1991; accessed March 10, 2013
  9. ^ Corwin, Betty "Theatre on film and tape archive" Archived September 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts, accessed May 10, 2013
  10. ^ a b "City Panel Near Vote On Save-The-Theaters Proposals" New York City: NYTimescom April 15, 1984 Retrieved June 23, 2015 
  11. ^ "Proposal to Save Morosco and Helen Hayes Theaters" Archived May 20, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, LHP Architects, accessed March 10, 2013
  12. ^ Bill Summary & Status – 97th Congress 1981–1982 – HR6885 - Co-Sponsors Thomaslocgov Retrieved December 10, 2015
  13. ^ HR 6885, Library of Congress
  14. ^ a b c New York City's Theater District officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict" is an area in Midtown Manhattan where most Broadway theatres are located, as well as many other theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other places of entertainment It extends from West 40th Street to West 54th Street, from west of Sixth Avenue to east of Eighth Avenue, and includes Times Square
  15. ^ "New York City Department of City Planning" NYCgov Archived from the original on March 14, 2013 Retrieved March 3, 2013 
  16. ^ Blau, Eleanor November 2, 1991 "Joseph Papp Is Remembered in Words and Song" New York Times Retrieved February 22, 2013 


  1. ^ Co-sponsors of the Mitchell bill included: Rep Michael D Barnes MD, Rep Barber B Conable, Jr NY, Rep Thomas A Daschle SD, Rep Arlen Erdahl MN, Rep David W Evans IN, Rep Hamilton Fish, Jr NY, Rep Thomas M Foglietta PA, Rep Peter A Peyser NY, Rep Peter W Rodino, Jr NJ, Rep Louis Stokes OH, Rep Ted Weiss NY, Rep George C Wortley NY, and Rep Ron Wyden OR12

External linksedit

  • Joe Papp Public Theater
  • Joseph Papp at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Joseph Papp at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
  • Joseph Papp on IMDb
  • The rally to save the theatres - WorldCat
  • Nostalgia 20: Has Historic Preservation Become a Spectator Sport - HUFFPOST Arts and Culture

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