Joseph Papp
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Joseph Papp was the man responsible for Shakespeare in the Park, "Hair," "A Chorus Line," and the general approachability of theater.

Before there was Papp, theater was inundated with basic, middle-class, mainstream betches who were willing to pay the big bucks to be entertained. Papp decided that something had to change. This may seem like a huge undertaking – to change everything about theater – but he had his reasons. Papp, whose real name is Yosl Papirofsky, was born in 1921 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which was a slum, not a hipster paradise at the time) “surrounded by terror,” and he “got beat up regularly.” His father made trunks and in order to help the family, Yosl had to shine shoes, pluck chickens, and sell peanuts, which still didn’t keep them from having to move in the middle of the night because they couldn’t pay rent.

During World War II he served in the Navy which, funnily enough, is where he fell in love with theater. He would put on shows “on a flattop" (a navy aircraft carrier). After the war he set out for California to join the Actors’ Laboratory, from which he graduated in 1948. Then he left California because he couldn’t stand all that sunshine and ~good vibes~ and took a job as television stage manager for CBS, where he shortened his last name to Papp because “Papirofsky was too long to fit on the television screen during the credits.” Soon he would begin toying with the idea of free Shakespeare plays. Papp started putting on productions in a church in Manhattan and they ended up becoming what is now Shakespeare in the Park, a theatrical program that puts on free productions of Shakespeare for audiences on a first-come-first-serve basis. It started in 1954 and since has put on over 100 productions in their open-air Delacorte Theater, which was finished in 1962. Papp also bought the old Astor Library and turned it into a the Public Theater, where he continued to make theater accessible to the people. “By the 1960s, Papp had become a catalyst for alternative theater.” He was essentially a theater god, which is why in this painting he is seated in front of audience members, an admission ticket to the Delacorte Theater, and various actors on stage and in costume. All products of his kingdom.

As with the case of many highly successful people, Papp’s home life suffered. He was married four times, the first three ending in divorce. He had four children, one of whom died of AIDS shortly before Papp died of prostate cancer. He was a tough guy who didn’t take disappointment well. He and the playwright David Rabe didn’t speak for four years because Papp said that if Rabe “had not become a writer he would have been a murderer.” Rabe obviously did not find that quite as funny as I do. There are people who respect Papp greatly, however. Wallace Shawn, the real life Yoda of the acting world, said, “He has a quite amazing access to his own irrational side. So you don't get an academic response from him. You always get an unexpected response, which makes you feel that the encouragement is based on something he feels." There may have been many grievances against Joseph Papp, but not caring was never one.



  1. "Day At Night: Joseph Papp, Theatrical Producer And Founder Of The Public Theatre." YouTube. N.p., 2011. Accessed July 24, 2018.
  2. "Joe Papp." Biography. N.p., 2014. Accessed July 24, 2018.
  3. "Joseph Papp." Smithsonian Institution. N.p., 2018. Accessed July 24, 2018.
  4. Rothstein, Mervyn. "Joseph Papp, Theater's Champion, Dies." N.p., 1991. Accessed July 24, 2018.