From 1954 until his death in 1991, Joe Papp brought brought more theater to more people than any other producer in history. In his eyes, art was for everyone, not just a privileged few. “We have public libraries,” he would argue, “Why not public theaters?”
Papp recognized the role art could play in building a more democratic, multi-cultural societhy. For him, the arts were a bridge, crossing boundaries of race, class and ethnicity.
Papp was convinced that women and minorities, denied power elsewhere in society, could develop it on stage. He gave us a world Ntozake Shange could celebrate “colored girls,” where a woman could be “Hamlet” and James Earl Jones could be King Lear. He gave stages to veterans, gay people, prisoners, run-aways, and poets. He slashed ticket prices, and took art to the streets. He created the Festival Latino, which became the largest Hispanic theater festival in the world.
At the same time, his personal story is riveting: a very poor boy who fell in love with Shakespeare and hid his immigrant roots for over twenty years, Papp became a tireless fighter for the arts who raised enduring debate about our founding ideals and the role of the arts in a pluralistic society.
If Papp’s impact on theater was enormous, even more significant was his contribution to American culture. He broke down barriers. And perhaps most important of all, he saw strength in diversity.
After more than a decade in the making, JOE PAPP IN FIVE ACTS will soon be released. It will reach a broad national audience through film festivals, national prime-time PBS broadcast and, potentially, in cinemas. It will be widely distributed to class-rooms, libraries, community groups, and on home DVD.
The film’s release will also launch a national community out-reach campaign and educational initiative. To maximize the films impact and reach, we are developing an outreach campaign designed not only to encourage immediate dialogue, but to foster long-term, collaborative strategies on race and related issues while raising awareness of the power of the media and storytelling as tools for civic engagement.