(Simon Callow's article appeared in the Guardian, 11/14.)
Lord of the dance
Simon Callow on the great impresario Sergey Diaghilev of the Ballets
In the theatre, there is a distinction to be made between an impresario and a producer. Sergey Diaghilev was both. He produced the work – that is to say, he raised the money, hired the artists and the craftsmen and ensured that the show opened on time – and he did all this superbly. But what has made him legendary is that he also created the conditions in which the work was initiated, he prepared the public for it, and he made sure that when it was done, it was the cynosure of the artistic world. This is the work of the impresario, who must be part huckster, part rallier of the troops, part goad and tormentor of his artists, part keeper of their artistic conscience, part networker. He needs to be absolutely in tune with the public and always ahead of it, and to create a perpetual excitement around the work. He must be a huge personality, but he is never the creator of the work itself.
(Dwight Garner's review ran in The New York Times, 11/12.)
Impresario of and for the People
One of the best lines in “Free for All,” the big, bouncy new oral history of Joseph Papp and the Public Theater, isn’t about Papp at all. It’s about the mesmerizing effect the director Mike Nichols had — and still has — on playwrights. “I think if an Eskimo wrote a play,” the playwright James Kirkwood says, “he’d put it on an ice floe and push it toward Mike Nichols.”
It’s no knock against Mike Nichols to observe that, throughout most of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Papp was the man with the most clout, and the most nerve, in the English-speaking theater world. There had been no one quite like him. A scrappy Brooklyn kid, the son of a Yiddish-speaking trunk maker, Papp, who never went to college, founded and ran for decades two of New York City’s signal cultural landmarks, the New York Shakespeare Festival (now called Shakespeare in the Park) and the Public Theater.
He invented and nurtured these nonprofit institutions through force and charm and occasionally bristling aggression, but also through fine taste and uncanny intuition. His first love was Shakespeare, but he also had a feel for offbeat musicals like “Hair” and “A Chorus Line” (at its time, the longest-running musical in Broadway history), both of which had their start at the Public, and for works like Ntozake Shange’s poetry-driven “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”
(Patricia Cohen's article appeared in The New York Times, 11/4.)
Long-Delayed Opening for History of, and by, Joseph Papp
If Joseph Papp had had his way, “Free for All,” the newly published oral history about him and the Public Theater he helped found, would never have seen the light of day. The memory of how Papp, more than 20 years ago, inexplicably turned on the project he initiated even now causes its author, Kenneth Turan, to wince. “It was so traumatic when Joe told me the book wouldn’t be published,” he said, remembering Papp’s reaction to the manuscript to which Mr. Turan had devoted nearly two years. “It was like someone died.”
Now a film critic for The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Turan started collaborating with that grand impresario in 1986 on a definitive oral history of the Public and its forerunner, the New York Shakespeare Festival. Mr. Turan elicited memories from Papp of the grinding poverty of his Brooklyn childhood; the leftist ideology that inspired him to produce free theater; his defiant testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s; his surprising victory over the most powerful man in New York, Robert Moses; and the making of hits like “Hair,” “That Championship Season” and “A Chorus Line,” and fiascos like his own production of “Hamlet” (later called “Naked Hamlet”) and “True West,” which the playwright Sam Shepard and the director Robert Woodruff both ended up disowning.
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