New York Shakespeare Festival

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Shakespeare in the Park
WSTM Lazy Bastards 0060.jpg
The Delacorte Theater where Shakespeare in the Park is operated.
CityNew York City
CountryUnited States
Coordinates40°46′48.36″N 73°58′7.56″W / 40.7801000°N 73.9687667°W / 40.7801000; -73.9687667Coordinates: 40°46′48.36″N 73°58′7.56″W / 40.7801000°N 73.9687667°W / 40.7801000; -73.9687667
Operated byPublic Theater
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Shakespeare in the Park
WSTM Lazy Bastards 0060.jpg
The Delacorte Theater where Shakespeare in the Park is operated.
CityNew York City
CountryUnited States
Coordinates40°46′48.36″N 73°58′7.56″W / 40.7801000°N 73.9687667°W / 40.7801000; -73.9687667Coordinates: 40°46′48.36″N 73°58′7.56″W / 40.7801000°N 73.9687667°W / 40.7801000; -73.9687667
Operated byPublic Theater

New York Shakespeare Festival or Shakespeare in the Park is the cornerstone series of the New York City theatrical producing organization known as the Public Theater and happens every summer at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Built in 1961 and opened in 1962 the Delacorte hosts free performances of Shakespearean plays by the Public under the mission of its founder, visionary entrepreneur Joseph Papp, that the works of William Shakespeare should be available to everyone. Long queues are common sights near the Great Lawn of Central Park, particularly during the last weekend of a show's run and during productions with big name stars.

Originally called the New York Shakespeare Festival under new re-organization and branding, the Public dropped "NYSF" from its name, and has labelled its Delacorte operations as simply "Shakespeare in the Park". Actors such as Meryl Streep, George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, Raúl Juliá, Patrick Stewart, Sam Waterston, Kevin Kline, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Allison Janney, Morgan Freeman, and Al Pacino have performed on the Delacorte stage over the years. It was announced in February 2013 that the season would feature Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater as the twins Dromio and Antipholus in a new production of The Comedy of Errors directed by Daniel Sullivan. The summer featured a new musical adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost featuring songs by Michael Friedman and book and direction by Alex Timbers, the writers of the Tony Award Nominated musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the first original musical adaptation of Shakespeare's work at the Delacorte since Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1971.[1]

History of the Festival[edit]

The festival was originally conceived by director—producer Joseph Papp in 1954. Papp began with a series of Shakespeare workshops, then moved on to free productions on the Lower East Side. Eventually, the plays moved to a lawn in front of Turtle Pond in Central Park. In 1959, parks commissioner Robert Moses demanded that Papp and his company charge a fee for the performances to cover the cost of "grass erosion." A court battle ensued. Papp continued to fight Moses, winning his enduring respect and the quote "well, let's build the bastard a theater." Following this, Moses requested funds from the city for the construction of an amphitheater in the park. In 1961, the Delacorte Theater was built. The first performance held in the theater in 1962 was Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, starring George C. Scott and James Earl Jones.[citation needed]

The plays[edit]

At least one work by Shakespeare is always included in the festival's seasonal lineup. Only once was Shakespeare not included on the bill when a dispute occurred between Papp and the City of New York over public funding for his productions at the Delacorte. In a dramatic move of independence and zest, Joseph Papp denied the city any Shakespeare at the Delacorte for a summer, instead moving the Public's production of Pirates of Penzance to the uptown location. There have been few altercations between the city and the Public since, though the Public relies heavily on private funding. In 2005, the theater company was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.[2] In addition to Shakespeare other playwrights have also been featured during the season which in more recent years has generally included two productions a summer. The works of Anton Chekhov, Eric Bogosian, Sam Shepard, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht and Euripides have all been featured at one time or another.[citation needed]

Musicals play a part in the history of Shakespeare in the Park. Aside from the aforementioned production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance the festival has also produced productions of On the Town, the premiere of Two Gentlemen of Verona and its subsequent 2005 revival, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Tony Award winning revival of Hair, and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods. The 2013 Season will feature the new musical adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers.

Partial production history[edit]

YearShowDirectorNotable Actors
1956Julius Caesar
The Taming of the ShrewJoseph PappJ.D. Cannon, Colleen Dewhurst
1961Much Ado About NothingJoseph PappJ.D. Cannon, Nan Martin
1962The Merchant of VeniceJames Earl Jones, George C. Scott
The TempestRichard Jordan, Kathleen Widdoes
King LearFrank Silvera
1963Antony and CleopatraColleen Dewhurst
As You Like ItSam Waterston
1964OthelloJames Earl Jones, Julienne Marie
1968Henry IV: Part IISam Waterston
Romeo and JulietMartin Sheen
1971Two Gentlemen of VeronaMel ShapiroRaúl Juliá, Carla Pinza, Jerry Stiller
1972HamletGerald FreedmanColleen Dewhurst, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach
1973King LearJames Earl Jones, Paul Sorvino
1975HamletSam Waterston
1976Henry VMichael Moriarty, Peter Phillips, Meryl Streep
Measure For MeasureMeryl Streep, Sam Waterston
1978The Taming of the ShrewMeryl Streep
1979CoriolanusGloria Foster, Morgan Freeman
OthelloFrances Conroy, Raul Julia
1980The Pirates of PenzanceKevin Kline
1981The TempestRaul Julia
1982A Midsummer Night's DreamChristine Baranski, William Hurt
1983Richard IIIKevin Kline
1984Henry VKevin Kline
1985The Mystery of Edwin DroodDonna Murphy
1987Julius CaesarStuart VaughanAl Pacino, Martin Sheen
1988Much Ado About NothingBlythe Danner, Kevin Kline
1989Twelfth NightJeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer
Titus AndronicusKeith David, Kate Mulgrew
1990Richard IIIDenzel Washington
The Taming of the ShrewMorgan Freeman
1991OthelloRaúl Juliá, Liev Schreiber, Christopher Walken, Jeffrey Wright
1993Measure For MeasureLisa Gay Hamilton, Kevin Kline, Blair Underwood
1995The TempestGeorge C. WolfePatrick Stewart
1997On the TownJosé Llana, Jesse Tyler Ferguson
1998CymbelineMichael C. Hall, Liev Schreiber
The Skin of Our TeethJohn Goodman
1999The Taming of the ShrewJay O. Sanders
2000Julius CaesarJeffrey Wright
2001Measure for MeasureMary ZimmermanSanaa Lathan, Billy Crudup
Chekhov's The SeagullMike NicholsMeryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, John Goodman, Marcia Gay Harden
2002Twelfth NightBrian KulickZach Braff, Julia Stiles
2003Henry VMark Wing-DaveyLiev Schreiber
2004Much Ado About NothingDavid EsbjornsonSean Patrick Thomas, Sam Waterston
2005As You Like ItMark LamosLynn Collins
Two Gentlemen of VeronaKathleen MarshallRosario Dawson, Norm Lewis
2006MacbethMoisés KaufmanLiev Schreiber
Brecht's Mother Courage and Her ChildrenGeorge C. WolfeKevin Kline, Meryl Streep
2007A Midsummer Night's DreamDaniel SullivanMartha Plimpton, Jay O. Sanders
Romeo and JulietMichael GreifLauren Ambrose, Camryn Manheim
2008HairDiane PaulusJonathan Groff, Patina Miller, Will Swensen
HamletOskar EustisLauren Ambrose, Margaret Colin, Sam Waterston
2009Euripides' The BacchaeJoAnne AkalaitisJonathan Groff
Twelfth NightDaniel SullivanAnne Hathaway, Audra McDonald
2010The Merchant of VeniceDaniel SullivanJesse Tyler Ferguson, Jesse L. Martin, Al Pacino, Lily Rabe
The Winter's TaleMichael GreifJesse Tyler Ferguson, Jesse L. Martin
2011All's Well That Ends WellDaniel SullivanAnnie Parisse, Tonya Pinkins
Measure For MeasureDavid EsbjornsonAnnie Parisse, Tonya Pinkins
2012As You Like ItDaniel SullivanOliver Platt, Lily Rabe
Sondheim's Into The WoodsTimothy SheaderAmy Adams, Donna Murphy, Denis O'Hare
2013The Comedy of ErrorsDaniel SullivanJesse Tyler Ferguson, Hamish Linklater
Love's Labour's Lost, A New MusicalAlex TimbersDaniel Breaker, Rachel Dratch, Patti Murin

Popularity and acclaim[edit]

Many plays from the summer festival have gone on to Broadway, including Wilford Leach's staging of The Mystery of Edwin Drood from the 1984–1985 season and The Tempest from the 1995–1996 season. The festival has also attracted many well-known actors, such as Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Martin Sheen, and Al Pacino – the latter two of whom appeared as Brutus and Marc Antony in a toga-clad historical production of Julius Caesar, directed by Stuart Vaughan in 1987, in the first of the NYSF's Shakepeare Marathon. Since its inception, the festival has become popular with both New York natives and visitors to the city, and while the Delacorte Theater has 1,872 seats [2], prospective theatergoers can expect to sit in line for hours before the early afternoon ticket distribution. Approximately 80,000 people attend Shakespeare in the Park every year.[3]

Staging and casting[edit]

The New York Shakespeare Festival was known for years as a means to develop new talent, and many actors, including Meryl Streep, attribute their performances at the Delacorte as a key bolt in their rise to stardom. There have been times where casting will rely heavily on known names in the film and theater industries, as a means to attract audience and sponsors. This has resulted in occasional miscasting, and not all film actors are adept at live performance.

A variety of arrangements have been employed to modify the Delacorte Theater stage over the years. In recent years, the Public has been known for its elaborate sets at the Delacorte, with broad metaphors and reference to contemporary events. While they have rarely strayed from the Shakespearean script, such staging and costuming has riled traditionalists. The current trend at the Delacorte has been away from original Elizabethan costuming and sets, and more toward a directorial impression of how a show can be re-interpreted. Depending on the show, this trend has led to mixed critical reviews.

Sponsorship of other theatres[edit]

Over the years, the New York Shakespeare Festival supported other theatre companies throughout New York, helping to foster the growth of Off Broadway, as well as specific theatre programs and projects. Among these companies that benefited from NYSF during critical periods of their development was the Theatre for a New Audience. The Theatre for a New Audience developed a number of productions sponsored by the NYSF, including A Midsummer Nights Dream, presented at the Ansbacher Theatre, and through this sponsorship, the company was able to grow and expand its outreach to new audiences. Another such company was the Riverside Shakespeare Company. The Festival, under Papp's leadership, sponsored several Riverside Shakespeare Company productions at a critical stage in its development, beginning with Riverside's New York premiere production of Brecht's Edward II in 1982 at The Shakespeare Center on the Upper West Side (dedicated by Joseph Papp in 1982), followed by Equity parks tours of free Shakespeare throughout the five boroughs of New York City, much as the NYSF had done for years before. Riverside Shakespeare Company summer parks tour of Free Shakespeare sponsored by the NYSF began with A Comedy of Errors in 1982, followed by The Merry Wives of Windsor, featuring Anna Deavere Smith in her New York stage debut as Mistress Quickly, Romeo and Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew. During the NYSF period of support, the Riverside Shakespeare Company expanded greatly, offering for the first time The Shakespeare Project in 1983, and serving a wide range of audiences in the five borroughs.[citation needed]

Most of this kind of developmental support by the NYSF came under the initiation of Joseph Papp – as part of his commitment to foster the development of theater in New York, from revenues derived from successful NYSF productions, such as the Broadway production of A Chorus Line, which had been developed at the NYSF and transferred to Broadway for the longest run of a Broadway musical up till then.

Location and allure[edit]

The Delacorte Theater is an open-air amphitheater located on the southwest corner of the Great Lawn in Central Park, closest to the entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. It was built in 1961 and named for George T. Delacorte, Jr., who donated money for its creation. Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond provide a backdrop for the shows at the Delacorte. As shows at the Delacorte begin in the early evening, shows usually start in daylight; as the play rolls on, the sun sets and the audience is drawn into the illuminated action on the stage. Since 1962 the Public has had the privilege of its exclusive use.

Ticket distribution[edit]

Awaiting tickets

Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free and can only be obtained the day of a performance. At 12 noon tickets are distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte to the line of people that usually springs up early in the morning when the park opens at 6 a.m. Anyone five years old and older can obtain and are required to have a ticket should they wish to see the show. The 2013 Season features a new policy that one person can only obtain two tickets for two performances of one production. In addition to the main line which snakes through the park the Public also offers a few other options to get tickets. One being the line for Seniors which begins at the benches closest to the theater's box office. The tickets provided to that line have easy access inside the theater and are only available to persons 65 and above. ID is required to obtain the tickets. The ADA Accessible line is intended for patrons with disabilities and can by joined by checking in with staff at the box office the morning of a performance who will provide, as availability dictates, tickets in locations suited to various individual needs. Shakespeare in the Park also offers specific performances throughout the summer for patrons with hearing and/or vision loss including Sign Language interpreted performances, audio-described performances, and open-captioned performances.

In 2009 the Public introduced the Virtual Ticketing system which is an online drawing to win tickets to that days performance without waiting in line in person. On the day of a show, users can log on to anytime between midnight and 11:59 a.m. to register for that evening’s performance. After 12:00 p.m. that same day, users will receive an e-mail stating that they have received tickets to the show. Tickets can be claimed at the Delacorte box office between 5:30 and 7:30 under the name and address used for registration. A valid photo ID is required for all pick-ups at the Box Office. Any tickets not claimed by 7:30 will be given away to the stand-by line. Within the Virtual Ticketing system Seniors can register for the Senior Virtual Ticketing as long as they are 65 or older and have valid photo ID with proof of age. And any patron requiring Accessible (ADA) seating can specify this when registering and specific tickets will be provided according to their specific needs. In addition to the ticket line at the Delacorte Theater and Virtual Ticketing online, a limited number of vouchers for specific performances are distributed at locations throughout New York City's five boroughs on certain days during the run of a production. Each person in line is allowed two vouchers and each voucher is good for one ticket for that evening’s performance. Vouchers must be exchanged for tickets at the Delacorte Theater box office that same day from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tickets cannot be exchanged in the event the performance is rained-out which is a possibility. A performance will never be cancelled before the scheduled start time and may continue in the rain if it is deemed safe by the production staff. Late seating is at the discretion of management and may not be granted until 30-40 into the show.

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