About Gail Merrifield Papp
GAIL MERRIFIELD PAPP was born in San Francisco into a family with a deep theater lineage. Inspired by parents who were editors and writers, Gail originally began a career in publishing, but then decided to reinvent herself by looking for a job in the theater.
Gail en route to the Grand Canyon from New York City on her 1½
horsepower Harley Davidson, 1955 Photo: Gail Papp
Great-great-grandmother Martha Mills, 1850s. She played Lady Macbeth.
Great-grandmother Rita Booth as Billy Piper in The Danites, 1882
With a bit of good luck, Gail managed to land a position with the new Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center that was due to open in 1965. Her very first job was reading and evaluating new plays for the experimental Forum Theater. It led to Director Harold Clurman enlisting Gail’s services on his production of Incident at Vichy.
Gail moving into her office at the Public Theater, 1966. Photo: Gail Papp
Exterior of the Public Theater. Photo: Afton Merrifield Rodriguez
At the Shakespeare Festival and then at The Public Theater over the next years Gail’s role grew – finding writers for the new theater, working with Joe to launch The Public Theater, helping playwrights develop their ideas, watching Joe work so successfully with creative people at this ambitious start-up enterprise, knowing she had arrived at the right place: a theater led by a charismatic Founder-Producer inspired by social and artistic goals. As Assistant to the Producer in a one-person office, Gail’s work included every aspect of Producer Joseph Papp’s activities at the brand new Public Theater when they opened their first production, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, a show which would go on to change musical history, but did meet a bit of blowback at first.
In 2017, the remarkable history of musicals at The Public was celebrated with a special “From Hair to Hamilton” gala with excerpts not only from those two shows, but also from A Chorus Line, Runaways, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Caroline or Change, Fun Home, and Here Lies Love.
Gail is now writing the Joe Papp story never told, from the unique perspective of working shoulder to shoulder with him to launch the success of some of America’s most important plays, playwrights, and talent.
Joe and Gail cutting the cake at their home wedding in 1976 Photo: UPI International
Photo: Papp Estate
Today and Tommorow
Her story includes an insider’s perspective on the astonishing creation of The Public Theater, the initial phase of its struggles and successes (marked by Hair, A Chorus Line, Sticks and Bones and The Normal Heart), and on working to help artists and plays succeed in finding new audiences.
Along the way, fans of theater and members of that community are offered a front row seat to observe in vivid detail the process and the players, perhaps understanding for the first time Papp’s approach to working successfully with highly creative people. Gail’s memoir gives its readers the opportunity to look at the early years of some of today’s most celebrated names and to appreciate the value and impact of Founder Joseph Papp’s passionately democratic mission in the growth of his theater. Their front row seat also offers the chance to witness scenes that illustrate the delicate/difficult/invisible/invaluable role editors play in the process of bringing a dramatic work to the stage.