“Gail Papp was the anchor and ballast for so many of us who began our careers at the Public Theater.”
~ Mandy Patinkin
Photo: Linda Lenzi/BroadwayWorld.com
Public / Private Book Cover


Joe Papp at the Delacorte
Producer Joseph Papp at the Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park
Photo: © Estate of Barbra Walz


Joseph Papp was the 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.

The Public’s earliest successes, including Hair, A Chorus Line, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Sticks and Bones, and The Normal Heart, were followed by George C. Wolfe’s acclaimed productions of Top Dog/Underdog, and Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.

Launching award-winning works like Fun Home, Hamilton, and Sweat, The Public Theater, now under Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, continues to fulfill Joe Papp’s manifesto: “The Public is Theater Of, By, and For All People.”





“For anyone that was lucky enough to work at the Public Theater at its very beginnings, they immediately discovered that the essential person to get to know was not necessarily Joe Papp, but his personal and creative muse, right hand and left sounding board and advisor in all things political and theatrical, Gail Merrifield Papp. Gail was the head of play development throughout the years when playwrights like David Rabe, Thomas Babe, Elizabeth Swados, Larry Kramer and Ntozake Shange, among many others, were finding their theatrical homes thru Gail . . . and playwrights felt unusually safe with her and came to depend and trust her incisive responses to their work.”

~ Kathryn Grody
Joe & Gail Papp working at home
Joe and Gail Papp working at home
Photo: © Estate of Barbra Walz


The above posters by Paul Davis represent six plays Gail worked on at the Public Theater and felt especially close to. Paul Davis’ distinctive work is included in collections throughout the world and at MoMa in New York. He is in the Hall of Fame of both the Art Directors Club and the Society of Illustrators. In 1987, The Drama Desk created a special award to recognize Davis’ iconic posters for Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.

As Director of New Plays and Musicals Development at the Public Theater, Gail was responsible for some of its best-remembered productions. Partners in both work and life, Gail and Joe married in 1976.

From her unique perspective and role working daily alongside Joseph Papp and the extraordinary talent in their orbit, Gail Merrifield Papp’s recently published memoir  offers new insights for theater professionals and fans, and  introduces today’s audience to this “pragmatic radical touched with public genius” who has special relevance for all of us in the troubled 21st century.”

More than anyone else, Gail has brought a lively personal quality to the most dynamic story in New York theater’s recent history.

Joe & Gail Papp at Delacorte

Gail and Joe Papp before a preview at the Delacorte Theater
Photo: George E. Joseph

Author’s note

from the memoir

by Gail Merrifield Papp
Tom Toro Cartoon
Cartoon by Tom Toro

Why does someone start a theater? What is its purpose? Who is it for? Who creates it? How is it kept afloat? Why should anyone care? Also, why am I alive? What is the meaning of existence?

These were the kinds of questions that Joe Papp, who founded New York City’s free New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater, asked himself throughout his career as a theatrical producer. Such questions were basic to his fiercely democratic viewpoint that not only changed American theater in the way that it staged Shakespeare, but also brought into major focus the voices of new American playwrights who had been previously minimized or ignored due to their ethnicity and gender.

During the twenty-six years that I worked with Joe in the theater, we were immersed in these ideas and questions. Many of the social issues he confronted still reflect urgent concerns in the twenty-first century. Such matters are an important counterpoint to my story, which is, I freely admit, first of all about the connection of mind and heart that Joe and I unexpectedly discovered in each other. In the currently destabilized world of a devastating pandemic and the toxic undermining of our country’s fragile democratic experiment, it seems the right time for me to remember Joe’s fighting words and large perspective—and to share with others the humor and humanity of a sorely missed pragmatic radical touched with public genius.

Gail Merrifield Papp
New York City
January 2023