Monday, November 9, 2009


Free For All is a truly great book.

It's extremely interesting and well written, with fascinating recollections of the foundation and development of The Public Theater (and the arts of producing, directing, and acting, as well as fundraising and theater construction) from Joe Papp and actors, directors, and lots of others that worked with him. The interviews were conducted long ago, but only recently was Kenneth Turan given the release to go ahead with publication.

Author Kenneth Turan
At the "Free For All" Book Party
Photo by Eric Roffman

It should be the reading of choice for anyone interested in theater...

And required reading for:

  • Anyone interested in producing for the theater
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Anyone involved with a cultural non-profit
  • Anyone involved in public policy
  • Business schools
  • Acting and theater schools
  • Actors, directors and producers
  • Literature and drama classes
  • Historians of New York in the late 20th century
  • Everyone else

(Seriously, it has important contributions to all these areas of study... and more. And I hope that the original tapes/transcripts, etc will be donated to a museum, library or university because they will also be invaluable to future scholars -- in all these disciplines above... and more!)

Papp and The Public Theater were pioneers in developing experimental and off-Broadway theater, developing an American tradition of playing Shakespeare, and developing non-traditional casting.

(My own opinion is that this would be a great time to develop a new, vigorous, new-theater movement. Of course, there's currently lots and lots of theater in New York -- a truly amazing amount of theater -- but I haven't seen it breakout into a new aesthetic. This book gives some clues as to how one emerges.)

The book is filled with interesting gems. Here's theater critic Clive Barnes on how Papp believed in keeping The Public alive:

Clive Barnes: "Joe has always understood the necessity of expansion -- not the desirability of expansion but the actual necessity... An arts organization is a living organism..."

The Public Theater was sufficiently well established by Joe Papp that it survived its founding Director. (Something that's not that easy to accomplish.) The current Artistic Director (Papp, of course, was Everything Director), Oskar Eustis, is leading The Public in a rich and expanding program of activities very much in the spirit of the institution that Papp established.

Oskar Eustis
Current Artistic Director of the Public Theater
At the "Free For All" Book Party
Photo by Eric Roffman

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