Blending a behind-the-scenes history about New York City’s Public Theater with an engrossing account of her life working alongside her husband, the Public's founder Joe Papp, Public/Private is Gail Merrifield Papp’s enthralling and highly entertaining memoir about the legendary theatrical institution. Opening with its early days in the Sixties, her narrative spans the decades-long theatrical partnership the couple enjoyed until Joe's death in 1991. During that time, the Public staged hundreds of productions, ranging from free Shakespeare in Central Park to new plays, such as Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and musicals like Hair and A Chorus Line—an extraordinary body of work that launched the careers of dozens of actors, including James Earl Jones, Colleen Dewhurst, Gloria Foster, Morgan Freeman, Raúl Juliá, Kevin Kline, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Meryl Streep, and Diane Venora, all of whom make an appearance in the book.
In a witty conversational style, Gail Papp paints a comprehensive picture of the ways that the Public was driven by Joe's ambition to create a democratic theater whose artists and audiences would reflect the city's population. Also highlighted are unfamiliar aspects of his many battles with the establishment, from tilts with Robert Moses to theater critics. The scourge of AIDS is also documented in the form of people close to Joe and Gail, and in the toll it exacted on Joe's son, Tony. In recounting setbacks and frustrations alongside moments of passionate artistry and theatrical innovation, Gail's personal remembrances lend the narrative a keen, emotional edge which will captivate readers. At a time when America remains divided over issues of equality, identity, and freedom of expression, Public/Private is an important chronicle of how the Public Theater became a transformative beacon for social change—and of the man who created it.
GAIL MERRIFIELD PAPP was born in San Francisco into a family with a deep theater lineage. After joining Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival in 1965, she became Director of New Works Development for the Public Theater and was responsible for some of its best-remembered productions. These include The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play about the AIDS crisis, for which she received the Human Rights Campaign Arts and Communication Award, and Rupert Holmes’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Gail Merrifield and Joseph Papp were married in 1976.
Producer-Director JOSEPH PAPP (1921–1991) is the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, which since 1956 has produced free Shakespeare in New York City. In 1965 he steered the acquisition of the Astor Library landmark building where he created the Public Theater dedicated to new American work, opening in 1967 with the original production of Hair. Papp produced over six hundred plays and musicals which, by 1991, had won more than 200 stage, film, and television awards. Called “the most important force in the English-speaking theater” in the twentieth century, he was also an outspoken champion of human rights and the First Amendment who, in the words of the Congressional Record, “struggled to make New York City and our country a more livable place, to uplift our spirits, to challenge our minds, and see us through to another day.”
"Compelling ... .A terrific twofer that’s both a fascinating history and an affecting personal memoir. Will likely appeal to theater fans everywhere."
"This book is a joyous celebration of a man and his era that leaves you yearning for his return but also thankful for the fact he existed at all."
"Gail Merrifield Papp’s astounding memoir ... is a must read. Get this book. Read it, study it, engrave it in your soul. This is how one creates an artistic mission with a great purpose."