About The Public

The only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare and the classics, musicals, contemporary, and experimental pieces in equal measure, The Public serves as an advocate for the theater as an essential cultural force in leading and framing dialogue on important issues of our day.  These core democratic values, set in place by its visionary founder, Joseph Papp, inform all aspects of The Public’s activities.  

Conceived nearly 60 years ago as one of the nation’s first nonprofit theaters, The Public has served as a model, both in terms of mission and programming, for nonprofit theaters that have blossomed throughout the country since that time.  The Public engages one of the largest and most diverse audiences in New York City in a variety of venues—including the Delacorte Theater; its landmark downtown home, which houses five theaters and Joe’s Pub; and the Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which tours Shakespearean productions for underserved audiences throughout New York City’s five boroughs. 

The Delacorte Theater in Central Park, the company’s first permanent home, which is marking its 52nd year of performances, has welcomed more than 5 million people to free performances since 1962.  Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, The Public Theater’s precursor, produced Shakespeare free of charge at various venues—including churches, parks, and the company’s mobile theater unit—beginning in 1954.   

In 1967, Papp established the company’s downtown home on Lafayette Street in the former Astor Library with the world premiere of the musical Hair. In October 2012, The Public completed a revitalization of the landmark building, dramatically opening it up to the street and community, and transforming the lobby into a public piazza for audiences, artists, and the public.  

The Public has transformed the nature and role of theater in the U.S. and, in doing so, changed the complexion of Broadway as well.  Hundreds of works that have been developed at The Public have gone on to presentations by nonprofit theaters across the country and on Broadway, extending the company’s engagement of audiences nationally and internationally.  One of the theater community’s most important resources for the creation of new work, The Public has a long history of giving voice to under-represented talent and continues to foster the next generation of theater artists through professional development programs and the presentation of stagings and readings by established and emerging writers.

To view our 2015-2016 annual report, click here

To view our 2014-2015 annual report, click here

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