Joseph Papp


Joseph Papp

Joseph Papp (June 22 1921 - October 31 1991) was an American theatrical producer and director. He was a high school student of Harlem Renaissance playwright Eulalie Spence.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Papp founded the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954 with the aim of making Shakespeare's works accessible to the public.

Founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival

In 1957 he was granted the use of Central Park for free productions of Shakespeare's plays. By age 41 after the establishment of the Park's Delacorte Theater, Papp looked for an all-year theater he could make his own. After looking at other locations, Joe fell in love with Lafayette Street’s Astor Library for its location and character. With massive renovations in order, Joe moved his staff to his newly named Public Theater hoping to attract a newer, less conventional audience to new and innovative playwrights.

Papp also obtained the use of the Astor Library Building in 1967; this has since become known as the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

Joe depended on authors more than anyone and saw them in a much higher respect then actors or even directors, and his focus moved farther away from the Shakespearean classics. With plays such as Charles Gordone’s "No Place to Be Somebody" (the first African American dramatist and off-Broadway show to win the Pulitzer Prize) and the plays of David Rabe, Tom Babe, and Jason Miller, Joe brought the Public into a new phase.

“… [w] ith the new playwrights, the whole direction of the theater changed. Joe changed direction and none of us realized for a while that he had changed direction. The Public Theater became more important than the Delacorte. The new playwrights became more interesting to Joe than Shakespeare.“ (Ming Cho Lee, Festival Designer)

Among the myriad plays and musical Papp produced, Papp is perhaps best known for his productions of "Hair", "The Pirates of Penzance," and "A Chorus Line".

Along with the Public Theater, Papp was best known for the New York Shakespeare Festival, which he founded, but he was also a Gilbert and Sullivan lover. In 1980, to commemorate the centenary of "The Pirates of Penzance", Papp mounted a souped-up, modernized version of the opera in Central Park. The show was a sensation, and Papp transferred it to the Broadway stage, where it ran for over 800 performances. It won Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Director, Wilford Leach, and Best Actor -- Kevin Kline -- and Linda Ronstadt was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical. The Papp production was much criticized in Gilbert & Sullivan circles. To make the opera more suitable for a Broadway audience, Papp's creative team wrote new orchestrations for a synthesizer-based orchestra. Musical tags were expanded or contracted, verses were transposed. The "fight scene" between the pirates and police, to which Sullivan had allotted only ten chords, was entirely rewritten. The Act II finale was restored to its first-night state. Liberties were taken with the dialogue too, though certainly not to the same degree as the music.

Fostering the Growth of New York Theatre

In addition to founding the New York Shakespeare Festival, Papp played a key role in the fostering of theatre throughout New York, in particular, the development of numerous Off Broadway theatres throughout his years as head of the NYSF. Among the many theatres that Papp supported (often with funds from successful Broadway transfers, such as A Chorus Line) were Theatre for a New Audience, which presented several productions at the NYSF, and the Riverside Shakespeare Company, for whom Papp took a special interest, beginning with the sponsorship of the New York premiere of Brecht's Edward II 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 1985. In 1983, Papp dedicated newly renovated theatre of The Shakespeare Center with Helen Hayes. ["Dickens lends the Bard a Hand," by Patricia O'Haire, "The New York Daily News,", Sept 13, 1982.] A complete listing of Festival productions is available in Joe Papp: An American Life by Helen Epstein.

Humanitarian Fund Created in Papp's Honor

In 2000 the [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Content.asp?dept=1580 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. These projects include the ( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=117] ) Esther and William Benenson and Family Homes for Boys and Girls, ( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=118] ) The Marcia Wilf and Ira Yavarkovsky Children’s Medical Clinic, ( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=121] ) Food on Wheels bus,( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=123] ) Wheels for Life bus, ( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=119] ) Eye Care Center and ( [http://www.tzivos-hashem.org/Article.asp?dept=1580&Article=124] ) Kids to Kids Clothes, Gift, and Craft Drives. The Fund holds an annual silent auction in New York City as a fundraiser, drawing the endorsement, and often the attendance, of many contemporary celebrities.

Joseph Papp died of prostate cancer, aged 70. His biography "Joe Papp: An American Life" was written by journalist Helen Epstein and published in 1994. He is buried in the Baron Hirsch Cemetery on Staten Island. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CEFDA1E3FF931A35752C1A967958260 Joseph Papp Is Remembered in Words and Song - New York Times ] ]

References

External links

Joe Papp Public Theatre: [http://www.publictheater.org/ www.publictheater.org] by Helen Epstein available on amazon


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