Gail Merrifield Papp – Credit: David Burnett

More than half a century after the Public Theater opened its doors with Hair, Gail Merrifield Papp will speak for the first time about her vivid and fascinating behind-the scenes memoir, Public/Private: My Life with Joe Papp at The Public Theater. The event will be held on Monday, September 18 at 6pm at Joe’s Pub – the Public Theater venue named for Joseph Papp. The book will be released on October 17.

Joseph Papp was a legendary producer/director who established non-traditional casting on the American stage, brought us Free Shakespeare in the Park, and founded The Public Theater as a platform for new voices. Gail Merrifield joined the Public Theater staff in 1965, where she was the Director of New Works Development. In 1976 Joseph Papp and Gail Merrifield wed and they ultimately worked together at the theater for 26 years.

Monday, September 18 @ 6:00pm

Gail Merrifield Papp @ Joe’s Pub

425 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003

Gail Merrifield Papp takes us inside a remarkable working partnership as she tells story after story about the creative process that launched many of The Public Theater’s best remembered productions, including Hair, A Chorus Line, Sticks and Bones, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enufThe Normal Heart, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and many others.

This very special evening finds her in conversation with the distinguished playwright and director George C. Wolfe who, for more than a decade, presided over The Public, restoring it to health following the trauma of 9/11 with a series of award-winning productions that included Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, which told the story, through tap, of Black history from slavery to the present. A five-time Tony Award winner, he has directed plays such as the original productions of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika and the 2018 production of The Iceman Cometh with Denzel Washington.

Gail Merrifield Papp was born in San Francisco into a family with a deep theater lineage. After joining Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival in 1965, she became Director of New Works Development for the Public Theater and was responsible for some of its most celebrated productions. These included The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play about the AIDS crisis, for which she received the Human Rights Campaign Arts and Communication Award, and Rupert Holmes’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Gail Merrifield and Joseph Papp were married in 1976 and she worked with him at the Theater for 26 years.

Playwright and artistic director George C. Wolfe staged several plays in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 1979, where he graduated with his M.F.A. in 1983 from New York University School of the Arts. He premiered Paradise! in 1985 and The Colored Museum in 1986, which garnered the attention of New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp. Following the premiere of Spunk (1989), Papp named Wolfe a resident director in 1990. Wolfe won his first Obie award for Spunk’s New York production that same year. In 1992, Wolfe made his Broadway debut with Jelly’s Last Jam at the Virginia Theatre, and achieved widespread recognition when he directed the Broadway premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in 1993. He presided over The Public for more than a decade, restoring it after the trauma of 9/11. The five-time Tony Award winner has also directed for film and television and is finishing up work on Rustin for Netflix and President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.

JOE’S PUB, a program of The Public Theater, was named for Public Theater founder Joseph Papp. Since it opened in 1998, Joe’s Pub has played a vital role in The Public’s mission of supporting artists at all stages of their careers with an intimate space to perform and develop new work. Joe’s Pub presents the best in live music and performance nightly, continuing its commitment to diversity, production values, community, and artistic freedom. In addition to one-night-only concerts and multi-night engagements, Joe’s Pub is home to the annual Habibi Festival, which hosts artists representing contemporary and traditional musics of the SWANA (Southwest Asia/North Africa) region, and The Vanguard Award & Residency, a yearlong curation series that celebrates the career, and community, of a prolific and influential artist, including Nona Hendryx, Judy Collins, Laurie Anderson, Barbara Maier Gustern, and Angelique Kidjo.

With its intimate atmosphere and superior acoustics, Joe’s Pub presents over 700 shows featuring artists based in New York City and touring performers from all over the world, and hosts over 100,000 audience members annually. Beyond public performances, Joe’s Pub also leads artist development programs like New York Voices, a commissioning program that helps musicians develop new performance projects, and Joe’s Pub Working Group, an artist-led development and collaboration cohort. Current commissioned artists include Dan Fishback, Omar Offendum, and Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

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