‘Free for All’ by Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp
Joe Papp brought theater to the masses, earning people’s awe and fury.
By Wendy Smith
The apt title of this juicy oral history, based on more than 160 interviews, simultaneously expresses a principle that guided producer-provocateur Joe Papp and the theatrical ruckus that ensued.
“Free for All” is how Papp presented Shakespeare in Central Park and in mobile units that toured some of New York City’s poorest, toughest neighborhoods. A free-for-all was the kind of battle he engaged in with anyone he thought stood in the way of making theater accessible to everyone.
And a free-for-all, the voices skillfully assembled in Kenneth Turan’s text reveal, was frequently the atmosphere created by Papp’s burning sense of mission and his intensely personal relationships with the artists he nurtured and infuriated during such groundbreaking productions as “Hair,” “No Place to Be Somebody,” “Short Eyes,” “A Chorus Line,” “for colored girls . . .” and “Runaways.”