Joseph Papp

Definition

Theater

  • (Joseph Papirofsky; 1921 - 91) US director and producer,who founded the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954 and the PublicTheatre in 1967. A leading figure in US drama for nearly 40 years,he enjoyed successes ranging from Hamlet to Hair.

    Papp's first shows were produced on board an aircraft carrierthat toured the Pacific during World War II. The New York ShakespeareFestival, with which his name will always be associated, began lifeat the Emanuel Presbyterian Church on East 6th Street, with most ofthe actors performing for no fee. In 1957 it moved to the open-airBelvedere Lake Theatre in Central Park and five years later to theopen-air Delacorte Theatre, on the west side of the park, given bythe city as a permanent home for Papp's summer 'Shakespeare in thePark'. In 1971 Papp produced an acclaimed musical version of TwoGentlemen of Verona, which won the Tony Award as Best Musical.At the same time, he developed an offshoot group, the Mobile Theatre,which took plays to people throughout New York's boroughs.

    Papp's Public Theatre company gave its first performance atthe Anspacher Theatre in the outrageous hippy musical Hair (1967),which ran for 1750 performances. Another great success was Jason Miller'sThat Championship Season, which won the New York critics CircleAward as the Best Play of 1972 and transferred to Broadway. The followingyear Papp became director of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and the MitziE. Newhouse Theatre at New York's Lincoln Center; he resigned after a financial crisis in 1978. By 1980 money problems also dogged theShakespeare Festival and that year it staged only one production, an updatedversion of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. It was ahit, moving to the Uris Theatre for a long run and then finding equalsuccess in London (despite the horror of traditionalists). The cityof New York responded by giving the Festival a permanent subsidy,making it both a private and public enterprise. In the later 1980sPapp began to feature television and film stars in his Shakespeareanproductions, which had already drawn such names as Julie Harris andColleen Dewhurst.

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