Building Publics: The Early History of the New York Shakespeare Festival
Hildy, Franklin J
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This dissertation explores the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater’s earliest history, with a special focus in the company’s evolving use of the rhetoric and concept of “public.” As founder Joseph Papp noted early in the theater’s history, they struggled to function as a “private organization engaged in public work.” To mitigate the challenges of this struggle, the company pursued potential audiences and publics for their theatrical and cultural offerings in a variety of spaces on the cityscape, from Central Park to neighborhood parks and common spaces to a 19th century historic landmark. In documenting and exploring the festival’s development and perambulations, this dissertation suggests that the festival’s position as both a private and public-minded organization presented as many opportunities as it did challenges. In this way, company rhetoric surrounding “public-ness” emerged as a powerful strategy for the company’s survival and growth, embodied most apparently by their current moniker as The Public Theater.