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New York Shakespeare Festival is the previous name of a sequence of shows organized by the Public Theatermarker in New York Citymarker, most often being held at the Delacorte Theatermarker in Central Parkmarker. For years the official name of the company was "The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival." Under new re-organization and branding, the Public has dropped "NYSF" from its name, and has labelled its uptown operations as simply Shakespeare in the Park.

The phenomenon of free Shakespeare in New York was pioneered and brought into being by the visionary entrepreneur Joseph Papp.

"Shakespeare in the Park" is an annual theater festival held in the summer in New York City's Central Parkmarker. A portion of tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free, which contributes to the popularity of the event. Long queues for free tickets are common sights near the Great Lawn of Central Parkmarker, particularly during the last weekend of a show's run and during productions with big name stars. Patrick Stewart, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Smits, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Sam Waterston, and Kevin Kline are among the actors who have graced the Delacorte stage in recent years.

History of the Festival

The festival was originally conceived by director, producer, and Public Theater founder Joseph Papp in 1954. Papp began with a series of Shakespeare workshops, then moved on to free productions on the Lower East Sidemarker. Eventually, the plays moved to a lawn in front of Turtle Pondmarker 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 Theatermarker 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.

The plays

Works by Shakespeare are always included in the festival's seasonal lineup; generally three productions with two-week runs. However, other playwrights have been featured, including Anton Chekhov, Gilbert and Sullivan, Eric Bogosian, Sam Shepard, and Samuel Beckett. The 2006 season featured Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht.

A notable exception came in the year a dispute occurred between Joseph 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 Citymarker 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.

Popularity and acclaim

Many plays from the summer festival have gone on to Broadwaymarker, 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 - Papp's endeavor to present all of Shakespeare's works over a period of years.

Since its inception, the festival has become popular with both New York natives and visitors to the city, and while the Delacorte Theater has over 1,800 seats, 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.[224269].

Staging and casting

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 occassional 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

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 borroughs 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.

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

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 Castlemarker 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

Tickets are given out at 1 pm, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater. People begin to queue at dawn, and snaking lines are part of the trademark of getting tickets for these shows. Fewer than 1,000 seats are part of the free program because tickets for every other row are sold to "Summer Supporters." Tickets were much easier to obtain before this policy was instituted.

Tickets are also distributed on selected days in the other boroughs of the city. In 2009 the Public tested distribution online through a Virtual Line and a Senior Line, but the majority of tickets are still distributed at Delacorte, according to their FAQ.

Tickets cannot be exchanged in the event of a rainout. Late seating is at the discretion of the director, and permission for late seating may not be granted until 30-40 minutes into the show.


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