Joseph Papp

Authored by: Patricia Lennox

The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare

Print publication date:  April  2010
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415400442
eBook ISBN: 9780203932520
Adobe ISBN: 9781134146482


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Joseph Papp (1921–91, born Joseph Papirofsky), producer-director and founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival (NYSF), was a director of Shakespeare and a director of other directors’ Shakespeare. Charismatic and controversial, he was a Shakespeare entrepreneur, a populist impresario, whose ‘principle was escalation or extinction’ (Little 1974: 221). When he wanted a theatre for his NYSF productions, he raised the money to build several: a 2,000-seat open-air amphitheatre, a mobile travelling theatre and a complex of small stages housed in a cavernous late-Victorian building. Joseph Papp put his stamp on every production seen in those theatres. From 1960, six years after his New York debut as a director, until his death, he controlled his NYSF with an imperial managerial style that recalled the early Hollywood studio bosses. Later comparisons to mega-theatrical producer David Merrick missed the point that Papp was always the director behind the director. No matter whose name was in the programme, it was Papp who chose the play, approved the production style, the designers and the cast and vetted the director’s work in progress.

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