Washington Film Premiere with a Very DC Connection

March 11, 2013  • Institute Contributor

Joe Papp Event, Aspen Institute

“It’s hard to remember what the theater was like before Joe,” said Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn of the genre-changing, Public Theater founder Joseph Papp.

Kahn was in discussion with Damian Woetzel, the Aspen Institute’s Arts Program director, immediately following the Washington, DC, screening of “Joe Papp in Five Acts” at Sydney Harman Hall recently. The film, which showed at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this past summer, detailed Papp’s relentless efforts to bring the works of Shakespeare to an egalitarian audience, charging nothing and featuring an ethnically diverse cast of actors in the 1960s—a tradition that lives on today.

The film’s original premiere marked the 50th anniversary of the now-famous Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. “Joe Papp discovered more actors than any other person in American theater,” said Kahn, who was among Papp’s finds. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Joe. I was 26 and he let me direct Measure for Measure. Let’s just say I was full of ideas. I was full of influences.” 

The film showed what is widely believed that Papp embodied in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. “The arts were not there to say everything is lovely,” explained Kahn of his mentor’s values. “Making theater was to address issues that otherwise go unaddressed.”

“Papp” filmmakers Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen were on-hand as well. The two shared that they are currently in talks with PBS’ American Masters series to offer the documentary to a wide audience of viewers, who could watch for free. We can only imagine Joe would approve.

Click here to see the conversation following the Aspen Ideas Festival premiere of “Joe Papp in Five Acts” in Summer 2012 with Public Theater director Oskar Eustis.