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Who Was Joe Papp? Watch Career Highlights of the Theatre Legend

American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts, which airs June 3 on PBS.

Joe Papp, founder of The Public Theater, Free Shakespeare in the Park and producer of groundbreaking plays like Hair, A Chorus Line and for colored girls..., created a "theater of inclusion" based on the belief that great art is for everyone. His legacy is celebrated in American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts, which premieres on June 3 on PBS at 9/8c (check local listings) and the PBS Video app.

Enter the world of Joe Papp, New York's indomitable, street-wise champion of the arts. A tireless fighter for the arts, Papp recognized the role art could play in building a more democratic, inclusive society. The story of Papp's great accomplishments and his own often tumultuous personal history is told by the artists he helped create-and, in some cases, tried to destroy-including, Meryl Streep, James Earl Jones, Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken, Larry Kramer, Ntozake Shange and George C. Wolfe, among others.

Before the premiere, recap some of his career highlights below!


Before its Broadway debut in 1968, Hair premiered at Papp's Public Theater on October 17, 1967. It went on to tour the US and Europe, was made into a film in 1979, and was revived on Broadway in 1977 and 2009. Hair has gone on to become one of the most influential musicals in Broadway history and is widely considered the first 'rock musical'.

Written by American playwright Charles Gordone, No Place to Be Somebody premiered at The Public Theater in 1967 and went on to become the first off-Broadway play to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Another Pulitzer Prize winning show, A Chorus Line, got its start at The Public Theatre, where it was developed by Michael Bennett and Bob Avian in 1975. It went on to win nine Tony Awards and was the longest-running Broadway musical until it was surpassed by Cats in 1997. [Note: It is still the 7th longest-running show of all time.]

Months before its Broadway premiere in 1976, Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf opened at The Public Theater. The show is currently on Broadway (and up for seven 2022 Tony Awards) and was revived by The Public in 2019:

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance was brought back to the stage in 1980 at the Delacorte Theatre as a part of Papp's Free Shakespeare in the Park. This new version of the operetta moved to Broadway the following year, starring Kevin Kline, Estelle Parsons and Linda Ronstadt.

In the 1980s, Papp worked for the preservation of some of Broadway's most historic theatres as one of the leaders of the "Save the Theatres" movement, which was partly responsible for the preservation of many of the theatre district's oldest venues. Throughout his life, he continued to advocate that great art is for all.

Learn even more about Papp and his legacy in American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts, which premieres June 3 on PBS at 9/8c (check local listings) and the PBS Video app.



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