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Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the…

Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever…

by Kenneth Turan

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An absolute must-read for anyone who wants to create theater. Joe Papp was the greatest impressario to ever live - we won't see his like again. He was lucky to live in the time that he did, because he could create the game instead of just try to play it. It has been corrupted since his heyday and he'd probably hate the State of the Art today... but goddamn times were good. If this book doesn't inspire the artist in you, you shouldn't be making art.

http://wp.me/pGVzJ-gE ( )
  drewsof | Jul 9, 2013 |
The book... thrills with its tale of a historic passage in the American theater told by the artists and administrators involved. What it may lack in currency and novelty it makes up in vividness, comprehensiveness and intimacy.
While Free for All doesn't surpass the other book-length histories of the Public, its oral-history approach allows it to achieve something they don't: it goes some way toward resurrecting Joe Papp. His voice is everywhere in this story. Smart, obnoxious, and wised up, it all but leaps off the page.
added by Shortride | editNewsweek, Jeremy McCarter (Nov 23, 2009)
[A] rowdy oral history... a heady stew of gossip and tumult.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767931688, Hardcover)

Kenneth Turan Introduces Free for All

More than twenty-three years ago, I signed a contract with producer Joseph Papp to work on a definitive oral history of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, the most significant not-for-profit theater group in the country. Joe had made theater in America both accessible and essential. He'd produced landmark plays like "Hair," "A Chorus Line," "That Championship Season," "The Normal Heart," and "Short Eyes," plays that people had to pay attention to because they transcended their moment in time. Papp had been essential in starting the careers of actors like George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, Raul Julia, Kevin Kline, James Earl Jones, and Martin Sheen. He was larger than life just by being himself.

A story like this, filled with alive, articulate, not to say theatrical people, turned out to be especially suited to the oral history format and, over the course of the next 18 months, I interviewed close to 160 people and turned out what I still consider the most significant and compelling work I've done in more than 40 years of journalism. The story of why something with so much to recommend it would take so many years to appear is in some ways as dramatic and surprising as the book itself.

Working with Joe on a project of this scope was enormously exciting, but I also from time to time feared that, as had happened with others he'd worked closely with, a rift would develop between us. And once he read the manuscript, that is what happened, with a vengeance. Disturbed and troubled, Joe refused to allow the book to be published.

Needless to say, this was devastating. The blow was so severe I had difficulty talking about what transpired for weeks, months, even years after it happened. Finally, perhaps a dozen years after the fact, I wrote a letter to Gail Merrifield Papp, Joe's widow and collaborator and a woman whose clear vision and integrity I had always admired and respected. This project, I said, was too important to die. Was there not some way we could bring it back to life? Gail thought there was and we began to talk.

Eventually I went to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where, as I worked on a new draft, I increasingly felt the powerful responsibility I had to the people who had talked to me at such length. All alone in the woods, I sometimes found myself literally in tears at the thought of the people, Joe first among them, who had been painfully honest about the most significant events of their lives and counted on me to relay their last testament to the world. For roughly 40 of the voices in this book, one out of every four, has died in the two decades since I did the interviewing. No one else will be hearing their stories from their lips, and to read this book is to reenter, as if by magic, a moment in history ripe for rediscovery and amazement. --Kenneth Turan

(Photo © Patricia Williams)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:27 -0400)

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"Los Angeles Times" film critic Kenneth Turan takes you behind the scenes at the Public Theater and tells the amazing story of how Joe Papp made American theatrical and cultural history.

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