Kline, Patinkin, Streep Celebrate Public Theater Founder Joseph Papp In New PBS Doc
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Kline, Patinkin, Streep Celebrate Public Theater Founder Joseph Papp In New PBS Doc

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A new documentary premiering this weekend from PBS’ American Masters is “Joe Papp in Five Acts,” which celebrates the founder of New York’s Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park and producer of revolutionary plays including A Chorus Line, for colored girls… and Hair.

Papp’s mission, American Masters said, was to increase public access to the arts.

It said he would argue, “We have public libraries. Why not public theaters?”

“Papp recognized the role artists could play in building a more democratic, inclusive society,” American Masters explained, adding, “At a time when theatre was largely the domain of white men, he was convinced that women, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC and other marginalized communities, denied power elsewhere in society, could develop it on the stage. His goal was a ‘theater of inclusion’ on-stage, backstage and in the audience.”

The documentary features film footage from the 1950’s to 1991, when Papp died, as well as scenes from his plays.

Among those he worked with who are interviewed are actors James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Mandy Patinkin, Martin Sheen, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken; playwright Larry Kramer; and director George C. Wolfe, a former artistic director of the Public Theater.

One goal of the film, American Masters said, is “to keep the legacy of this larger-than-life visionary alive.” It also hopes the film will “spark a national conversation about what it means to be American and the role of art in a democracy for a new generation.”

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