The Public Theater

The Public Theater is an arts organization in New York City. Joseph Papp founded The Public Theater originally as the Shakespeare Workshop in 1954. Its mission was to support emerging playwrights and performers.[1] Since Joseph Papp, the theatre has been led by JoAnne Akalaitis (1991-1993), and George C. Wolfe (1993-2004), and is currently under Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham. Its first production was the musical "Hair" in 1967.[2]

The Public Theater
Loz ptDSC00087.jpg
Address425 Lafayette Street
New York City
United States
Coordinates40°43′45″N 73°59′30″W / 40.72917°N 73.99167°W / 40.72917; -73.99167
DesignationNew York City Landmark
CapacityLuEsther: 160
Martinson: 199
Shiva: 99
Newman: 299
Anspacher: 275
ArchitectAlexander Saeltzer

The Public's headquarters is located at 425 Lafayette Street in the former Astor Library in Lower Manhattan. The building contains five theater spaces, and Joe's Pub, a cabaret-style venue for new work, musical performances, spoken-word artists, and soloists. Additionally, The Public operates the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, where it has staged "Shakespeare in the Park" performances free of charge since 1954.[3]

Recent productions include: The Merchant of Venice, (2010); Here Lies Love (2013); Fun Home, (2013); Eclipsed, (2015); and Hamilton (2015).

Programs and seriesEdit

In addition to each season of full-scale theatrical productions, The Public also produces several different series, festivals, and programs each year. [4]

The Public presented its inaugural Public LAB series in 2008 with an annual series of new plays presented in collaboration with LAByrinth Theater Company. With each Public LAB show, the corresponding speaker series is presented as after-show talkbacks to discuss prominent themes, ideas, and topics in the plays. Several plays that have appeared in the Public LAB series have gone onto full-scale productions, including Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Good Negro, which ran at The Public in 2009, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which had a sold-out, thrice-extended off-Broadway run at The Public in the spring of 2010 and transferred to Broadway that fall.[5]

In 2011, Public LAB expanded to include Public LAB SHAKESPEARE, which is a new platform for The Public's exploration of the Shakespeare canon. This expansion marks the growth of The Public's Shakespeare Initiative and provides more ways for The Public to produce American interpretations of Shakespeare's works. The first production of Public LAB SHAKESPEARE was Timon of Athens in March 2011, with Richard Thomas playing the title role.[6]

Since 2013, The Public's Mobile Unit has been bringing free Shakespeare performances to various locations throughout New York City's five boroughs, including prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers. The tour concludes at the prestigious Public Theater, having previously performed at notable venues such as Rikers Island, Borden Avenue's Veteran's Shelter, and The Fortune Society.[7] The Public also launched its inaugural Public Works production in 2013. Public Works combines diverse groups of people throughout the five boroughs of New York City to watch theater, participate in theatrical workshops, and perform in one full-scale Public Works production alongside professional actors at Shakespeare in the Park. Past Public Works productions include The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, and The Odyssey.[8]

The Public Forum, begun in 2010, is a series of lectures, debates, and conversations that showcase leading voices in the arts, politics and the media. Curated by Jeremy McCarter, a senior writer at Newsweek, Public Forum events explore issues raised by plays in The Public's season, as well as the political and cultural headlines of today's world. Notable participants in the series include Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner, Arianna Huffington, Alec Baldwin and Anne Hathaway.[9]

The Public hosts the annual Under the Radar Festival, a festival tracking new theater from around the world.

Over the last 12 years, The Public's Under the Radar Festival (UTR) has presented over 194 companies from 40 countries. UTR has presented works by such respected artists as Elevator Repair Service, Gob Squad, Belarus Free Theatre, and Young Jean Lee.[10]

The Public serves as the home of the Emerging Writers Group, which seeks to target playwrights at the earliest stages in their careers. The Emerging Writers Group is a component of The Public Writers Initiative.[11]

The Public also fosters Public Studio, a performance series dedicated to developing the works of new and emerging theater artists. Emerging playwrights get the opportunity to stage a piece somewhere between a workshop and a full production in front of an audience, as an opportunity to gage audience reaction and further develop their work.[12]

The Public Theater invests in theater education, training classical actors through the annual summer acting intensive known as the Shakespeare Lab. The Shakespeare Lab is The Public Theater's professional actor development program that immerses a selected company of professional, mid-career actors in a summer intensive exploring the rigors, challenges, and joys of performing Shakespeare.[13]

The Public Theater hosts educational programs for teenagers such as Shakespeare Spring Break, Summer ShakeUP, and A Midsummer Day's Camp programs, all for teenagers interested in learning about and performing Shakespeare.[14]

Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Master Writer Chair of The Public, debuted her performance piece Watch Me Work as part of the 2011 Under The Radar Festival. In the performance, Parks worked on her newest writing project in the main lobby of The Public Theater.[15]

The Astor Library in the latter half of the 19th century
A drawing of the Library published in 1900

Notable works and awardsEdit

A number of the Public's productions have moved to larger Broadway theaters upon the conclusion of their run at Astor Place. The three most commercially successful of these works have been Hair (1967), A Chorus Line (1975), and Hamilton (2015).

The Public Theater has won 54 Tony Awards, 152 Obie Awards, 42 Drama Desk Awards and five Pulitzer Prizes. Fifty-five Public Theater productions have moved to Broadway, including Sticks and Bones, That Championship Season, A Chorus Line, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, The Pirates of Penzance, The Tempest,[when?] Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Topdog/Underdog, Take Me Out, Caroline, or Change, Passing Strange, the revival of HAIR, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Merchant of Venice, The Normal Heart, Well, Fun Home, Hamilton, and Eclipsed.[citation needed]

Astor Library BuildingEdit

The Public has been housed in a landmarked Romanesque revival structure at 425 Lafayette Street since 1967, built between 1853 and 1881 as the Astor Library, which later merged with the Tilden and Lenox collections to become the New York Public Library. The library was built by William B. Astor, son of the library's founder, John Jacob Astor. A German-born architect, Alexander Saeltzer, who had been the architect of the Anshe Chesed Synagogue, [16][17] designed the building in Rundbogenstil style, then the prevailing style for public building in Germany.[citation needed]Astor funded two expansions of the building toward Astor Place, designed by Griffith Thomas (1856–1869) and Thomas Stent (1879–1881).[18] Both large expansions followed Saeltzer's original design so seamlessly that an observer cannot detect that the edifice was built in three stages.

In 1920, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society purchased the building. By 1965, it was in disuse and faced demolition. The Public Theater, then the New York Shakespeare Festival, persuaded the city to purchase it for use as a theater. It was converted for theater use by Giorgio Cavaglieri between 1967 and 1976.[18][19]

The building is a New York City Landmark, designated in 1965.[20] It was one of the first buildings to be recognized as such by the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York City.[21]

In 2009, The Public began its "Going Public" campaign to raise funds for a major renovation of the historic building.[22][23] Groundbreaking for the $35 million renovation occurred on March 9, 2010, with notables such as Liev Schreiber and Philip Seymour Hoffman in attendance.[24] Plans included a renovation of Joe's Pub; the Pub went on a three-month hiatus during the summer of 2011 to allow for construction.[25] The building re-opened on October 4, 2012 after a renovation designed by Ennead Architects costing $40 million.[26]

Public Works productionsEdit

In 2013, The Public launched Public Works, which brings together diverse groups of people throughout the five boroughs of New York City to watch theater, participate in theatrical workshops, and perform in one full-scale Public Works production alongside professional actors at Shakespeare in the Park. Past Public Works productions include The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, and The Odyssey.[8] Two productions, Shaina Taub's adaptations of Twelfth Night and As You Like It, were later remounted as full Shakespeare in the Park productions in 2018 and 2022, respectively.[27][28]

Year Work performed Director Notable cast members Ref.
2013 The Tempest Lear deBessonet [29]
2014 The Winter’s Tale Lear deBessonet Lindsay Mendez [30]
2015 The Odyssey Lear deBessonet [31]
2016 Twelfth Night Kwame Kwei-Armah [32]
2019 Hercules[a] Lear deBessonet [33][34]
  1. ^ stage adaptation of the 1997 Disney film


  1. ^ Epstein, Helen. Joe Papp: An American Life, Da Capo Press, March 1, 1996. ISBN 978-0306806766
  2. ^ Hetrick, Adam. e-Director "Public Theater Appoints Patrick Willingham Executive Director," Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, Nov 2011.
  3. ^ "Shakespeare In The Park – History", Archived 2011-04-13 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  4. ^ "NEW YORK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL". Pro Publica. Pro Publica Inc. Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  5. ^ "Public Theater – Public LAB", Archived 2011-04-14 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  6. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Richard Thomas Will Star in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens At The Public", Archived 2011-03-13 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  7. ^ "Mobile Unit". Archived from the original on 2015-10-07.
  8. ^ a b "Public Works". Archived from the original on 2015-10-01.
  9. ^ "The Public Theater – Public Forum", Archived 2011-03-16 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  10. ^ "Under the Radar". Archived from the original on 2016-07-22.
  11. ^ "The Public Theater – Emerging Writers Group", Archived 2011-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  12. ^ "Public Studio". Archived from the original on 2015-10-07.
  13. ^ "The Public Theater – Shakespeare Lab", Archived 2013-04-15 at, April 2011.
  14. ^ "The Public Theater – Shakespeare Programs For Teenagers", Archived 2012-07-14 at, April 2011.
  15. ^ "Watch Me Work", Archived 2011-11-06 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  16. ^ Israelowitz, Oscar. "Oscar Israelowitz's Guide to Jewish New York City" New York: Israelowitz Pub., 2004
  17. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. "Anshe Chesed Synagogue Designation Report" Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine (February 10, 1987)
  18. ^ a b White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5.
  19. ^ Dimonstein, Barbaralee. The Landmarks of New York, Harry Abrams, 1998 p. 107
  20. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S.; Postal, Matthew A. (2009). Postal, Matthew A. (ed.). Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1., p.64
  21. ^ Epstein, Helen (1996). Joe Papp: An American Life. Boston: Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306806766.
  22. ^ "Enter Theatergoers, Gently Welcomed," Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, April 27, 2009
  23. ^ Morrone, Francis (2002). The Architectural Guidebook to New York City. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 1-58685-211-6.
  24. ^ Hetrick, Adam."McDonald, Hoffman, Schreiber, Benanti Attend Public's Groundbreaking; Renovation Details Announced", Archived 2013-11-01 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  25. ^ "Joe's Pub Will Take Summer Hiatus as Public Continues Renovations", Archived 2013-11-01 at the Wayback Machine, April 2011.
  26. ^ Lipinski, Jed. "The Public Theater celebrates the end of a long refurbishments" Archived 2015-02-02 at the Wayback Machine Capital (October 8, 2012)
  27. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Shaina Taub and Members of Public Works Perform a Number From Her Twelfth Night Musical". Playbill. Retrieved 9 May 2023.
  28. ^ Harms, Talaura. "The Public's Free Shakespeare in the Park's As You Like It Completes Run September 11". Playbill. Retrieved 9 May 2023.
  29. ^ "Good People". The Foundry Theater's Good Person of Szechwan [program]. The Public Theater. October 2013. p. 6.
  30. ^ Soloski, Alexis (27 August 2014). "Shakespeareans From All Walks of Life". The New York Times. p. AR4.
  31. ^ Millward, Tom (12 May 2015). "The Public Theater announces 2015-2016 Season". New York Theater Guide. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  32. ^ "Nikki M. James, Jose Llana and Andrew Kober to Lead the Public's TWELFTH NIGHT Musical Adaptation". BroadwayWorld. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2022.
  33. ^ BWW News Desk (February 6, 2019). "Breaking: Bless My Soul! Public Theater Will Stage HERCULES at the Delacorte Theatre This Summer". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  34. ^ Evans, Greg (June 20, 2019). "'Hercules' Stage Musical Adaptation Finds Its Strongman: Jelani Alladin Among Cast Announced For Shakespeare In The Park Production". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 2, 2019.

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