Continuing the work of its visionary founder, Joseph Papp, The Public Theater is dedicated to developing an American theater that is accessible and relevant to all people. Creating theater for one of the largest and most diverse audience bases in New York City for nearly 60 years, today The Public engages audiences in a variety of venues – beginning with Free Shakespeare in the Park.
More than five million people have visited the Delacorte Theater for free performances, making it one of New York City’s most beloved summer traditions. At its landmark downtown home at Astor Place, housing five theaters and Joe’s Pub, The Public advocates for the theater as an essential cultural force through productions of new plays, musicals, and Shakespeare that lead and frame dialogue on some of the most important issues of our day. The Public’s programming also includes a range of artist and audience development initiatives including its Public Forum series, which brings together theater artists and professionals from a variety of disciplines for discussions that shed light on social issues explored in Public productions, and the Mobile Unit, which tours Shakespearean productions for underserved audiences throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
Celebrating its 53rd Anniversary in 2015, the Delacorte Theater officially opened in Central Park on June 18, 1962 with The Merchant of Venice, directed by Joseph Papp and Gladys Vaughan and featuring George C. Scott as Shylock.The Merchant of Venice was followed that summer by a production of The Tempest, directed by Gerald Freedman and featuring Paul Stevens as Prospero and James Earl Jones as Caliban. The first Delacorte summer season concluded with King Lear, directed by Joseph Papp and Gladys Vaughan and featuring Frank Silvera as Lear. Since then more than 100 productions have been presented for free at the Delcorte Theater. Highlights of past Delacorte productions include Othello in 1964 with James Earl Jones; Hamlet in 1975 with Sam Waterston; The Taming of the Shrew in 1978 with Raul Julia and Meryl Streep; The Pirates of Penzance in 1980 with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt; Henry V in 1984 with Kevin Kline; Much Ado About Nothing in 1988 with Kevin Kline and Blythe Danner; Richard III in 1990 with Denzel Washington; Othello in 1991 with Raul Julia and Christopher Walken; The Tempest in 1995 with Patrick Stewart; The Seagull in 2001 with Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Philip Seymour Hoffman; Mother Courage in 2006 with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline; Macbeth in 2006 with Liev Schreiber; HAIR in 2008 with Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson; Twelfth Night in 2009 with Anne Hathaway; The Merchant of Venice in 2010 with Al Pacino and Lily Rabe; As You Like It with Lily Rabe and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods with Amy Adams, Denis O’Hare, and Donna Murphy in 2012; an acclaimed production of The Comedy of Errors with Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater, and Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s world premiere musical adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2013; and last summer's Much Ado About Nothing with Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater and King Lear with John Lithgow in the title role.
The 2015 season of Shakespeare in the park will feature The Tempest and Cymbeline.