b. Yosl Papirofsky, 22 June 1921, New York City, New York, USA, d. 31 October 1991, New York City, New York, USA. Papp became one of the most admired and respected figures in New York’s theatrical community. He founded the non-profit New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954 and from 1957 presented free productions in the city’s Central Park. Innovative, enthusiastic and open-minded, Papp produced musical versions of William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen Of Verona (1971) and Much Ado About Nothing (1972), both of which later transferred to Broadway. In 1967 he also founded the Public Theater, using space in the building of the Astor Library. Following his death the theatre became known as the Joseph Papp Public Theater. A Public Theatre production A Chorus Line (1975) also moved on to Broadway, where it enjoyed great success and garnered multiple awards. Indeed, many of Papp’s Festival and Public Theatre productions were award winners during their Broadway afterlife.
Papp built a reputation not only for producing shows that were successful on Broadway but also for ploughing back the money they made into subsidizing shows by and featuring unknown writers and artists. Among many of those whose careers benefited from Papp’s support are David Hare, Carson Kievman, David Mamet, Wallace Shawn and Sam Shepard. Other shows he produced were Hair (1967), Sticks And Bones (1971), Fathers And Sons (1978), The Pirates Of Penzance (1980) and Kievman’s multi-media version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The latter was still a work-in-progress when Papp died, although it had been given a reading at the Public Theater in April 1990. Papp was tireless in his efforts to extract government funding for the arts that was unencumbered by the imposition of censorship, eventually succeeding despite heavyweight opposition in Washington, D.C.