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Public/Private – My Life with Joe Papp at The Public Theater: Gail Merrifield Papp in Conversation with George C Wolfe

Public/Private – My Life with Joe Papp at The Public Theater: Gail Merrifield Papp in Conversation with George C Wolfe

September 18, 2023

Why does someone start a theater? What is its purpose? Who’s it for? Who creates it? How is it kept afloat? Why should anyone care? Also, why am I alive? What is the meaning of existence?

These were the kinds of questions that Joe Papp, who founded New York City’s free New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater, asked himself throughout his career as a theatrical producer. Such questions were basic to his fiercely democratic viewpoint that not only changed American theater in the way that it staged Shakespeare, but also brought into major focus the voices of new American playwrights who had been previously minimized or ignored often due to their ethnicity and gender.

Gail Merrifield Papp was born in San Francisco into a family with a deep theater lineage. After joining Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival in 1965, she became Director of New Works Development for the Public Theater and was responsible for some of its most celebrated productions. These included The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play about the AIDS crisis, for which she received the Human Rights Campaign Arts and Communication Award, and Rupert Holmes’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Gail Merrifield and Joseph Papp were married in 1976 and she worked with him at the Theater for 26 years.

More than half a century after the Public opened its doors with Hair, Gail Papp returns to the Theater to talk, for the first time, about her vivid and fascinating behind-the scenes memoir Public/Private: My Life with Joe Papp at The Public Theater. This very special evening finds her in conversation with the distinguished playwright and director George C. Wolfe who, for more than a decade, presided over The Public, restoring it to health following the trauma of 9/11 with a series of award-winning productions that included Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, which told the story, through tap, of Black history from slavery to the present. A five-time Tony Award winner, he has directed plays such as the original productions of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika and the 2018 production of The Iceman Cometh with Denzel Washington. He has also directed for film and television and is finishing up work on Rustin for Netflix and President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama's Higher Ground Productions. 

Wiley Hausam will moderate the evening. David Amram, who worked with Joe Papp as composer for the first decade of Shakespeare in the Park will provide a musical interlude.

Presented in collaboration with The Village Trip.

Photo credit: David Burnett

Gail Papp Website
The Village Trip Website

September 18, 2023


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MON 09/18 6:00 PM