Papp, Joseph

Papp, Joseph,

1921–91, American theatrical director and producer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. as Joseph Papirofsky. Papp, a major influence in American theater, founded the nonprofit New York Shakespeare Festival (now called Shakespeare in the Park) in 1954. He sought to make Shakespeare's works and other plays available to the public. In 1957 the city granted him a site in Central Park for free productions of Shakespeare, and a permanent theater for the project opened in 1962. Persevering and energetic, Papp also obtained (1967) from the city the Astor Library Building, where he produced plays, movies, and experimental works by new artists in the Public Theater (since 1992, the Joseph Papp Public Theater). Several of his productions, such as Hair (1967) and A Chorus Line (1975, Tony Award), moved to Broadway; the profits helped finance the Public Theater for many years. A strong advocate of creative freedom, Papp was an important promoter of off-Broadway theater and also did much to advance the careers of many fine actors and playwrights.


See oral history by K. Turan and J. Papp (2009); biographies by S. Little (1974) and H. Epstein (1994).

Papp, Joseph (b. Papirofsky)

(1921–91) theater producer, director; born in New York City. Son of an emigrant Russian-Jewish trunkmaker and pushcart peddler, his first experience with theater was producing navy shows on a flattop in the Pacific. Back in New York, he worked on off-Broadway plays and in 1954 produced the first of his free, outdoor Shakespeare plays in the Lower East Side. He then moved his free productions to Central Park, founding the still-operating New York Shakespeare Festival, noted for its endless series of Shakespeare plays with often unusual settings, casts, and accents. In 1967 he founded the Public Theatre, committed to productions not usually done in the commercial theater; one such, Chorus Line, was so successful that it helped support years of less popular productions. Active until his final months, he maintained a love-hate relationship with many of the theater people who worked with him, but all agreed he was a one-of-a-kind theatrical genius.