1921-91, American director and producer; b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Yosl Papirofsky. A theatrical innovator, he made fine plays available to large and varied audiences through his New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater (since 1992, Joseph Papp Public Theater) in New York City, using income from commercial successes, such as A Chorus Line (1975; Tony Award), to support the production of works by lesser-known playwrights (at the time), directors and composers, including David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Thomas Babe, David Hare, Carson Kievman, George C. Wolfe, Elizabeth Swados, Andre Serban, Robert Alan Ackerman and Wallace Shawn. Papp also supported influencial theatrical groups such as the Mabou Mines, and musical events like Pierre Boulez and his infamous "Rug Concerts" of the New York Philarmonic Orchestra. A tireless promoter of interdisciplinary arts and artistic freedom led him into a major battle against the forces of extreme conservatism and censurship against any controversial art. These negative forces, as personified by Sen. Jessie Helms, were the target of Joe Papp's endless resolve to restore open government funding to the arts without any form of censorship. That battle lasting over 10 tumultous years, appears to be coming to a succesful end. But we can thank Joseph Papp for leading the way with his courageous refusal to accept government funds while censureship attachements were made. This came at a time when his theater was struggling to survive financially since funds from A Chorus Line were beginning to dwindle and fundraising had become a problem.
Carson Kievman's innovative production of "Wake Up, It's Time To Go To Bed!" and Multinationals & The heavens, was premiered at Papp's Public Theater. Other major productions included Hair (1967), Sticks and Bones (1971; Tony Award), Fathers and Sons (1978) and The Pirates of Penzance (1980; Tony Award). One of Joseph Papp's last projects was to commission and work with composer Carson Kievman in order to create a multi-media/opera version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Papp's favorite play). The collaboration continued from 1987 until Papp's tragic death (from cancer) in 1991. The resulting unfinished work is both compelling and powerful according to many who attended the only reading at the Public Theater in April 1990.
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