Succeeding at the Public

Papp's restive ghost haunts the search for Wolfe's replacement

There's another problem, however, with having a very active director run the place: Focus inevitably tilts towards the projects he or she is working on. "It's not a question of siphoning the resources of the theater," explains Nicola. "But the staff—those who make things happen for productions—are likely to be more generous when working for the boss. It's an organizational issue."

"I was trained as a theater director," says P.S.122's departing executive director Mark Russell, "but see myself primarily as directing a theater. It's about animating a building and a community that goes along with it. Joe Papp wanted to create an inclusive environment, where ideas could bounce off the walls. To do this today you'd probably have to take down the extremely high production values, but the point would be to bring the theater into the 21st century."

"The Public needs someone whose priority is artists and new work," says Ellie Covan, executive director of Dixon Place. "George directed brilliantly, but there was a lot of unused real estate during his tenure. There isn't another facility like this in the country, and you need someone with Joe's broad commitment to downtown nonprofit theater to realize its artistic mission."

Fearless Joe in fighting trim
photo: Martha Swope
Fearless Joe in fighting trim

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Related Story:
"A Public Farewell: Lauded and Embattled, George C. Wolfe Calls It Quits After 11 Years" by Alisa Solomon

Nilo Cruz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright whose career has been nurtured by Wolfe, feels it's important to hire someone who will appreciate the Public's unique tradition of providing an ongoing home for writers. "For us, the theater serves in the same way a studio does for painters," he says. "It's the place where the work comes to full fruition."

Playwright Kia Corthron can't help harking back to the special atmosphere she encountered at the Public when she first arrived in New York in the late '80s: "It was the tail end of Joe Papp's time, and what was so exciting was the number of productions simultaneously going on. Whether anyone can bring that back in this era is a big question. But since every theater is financially insecure, you almost hope that whoever is in the position really goes for it and prevents the Public from becoming just another Off-Broadway venue."

"We can't replicate Joe Papp," says Foundry Theatre artistic director Melanie Joseph. "These are different times. And let's not forget, he was an artist—a producer artist—and therefore one of a kind. We need to find another amazing creature with his kind of creative producing energy who can appreciate the opportunity to host the greatest party imaginable."


Related Story:
"A Public Farewell: Lauded and Embattled, George C. Wolfe Calls It Quits After 11 Years" by Alisa Solomon

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