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Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 3, 2009

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767931688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767931687
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Kenneth Turan Introduces Free for All

More than twenty-three years ago, I signed a contract with producer Joseph Papp to work on a definitive oral history of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, the most significant not-for-profit theater group in the country. Joe had made theater in America both accessible and essential. He'd produced landmark plays like "Hair," "A Chorus Line," "That Championship Season," "The Normal Heart," and "Short Eyes," plays that people had to pay attention to because they transcended their moment in time. Papp had been essential in starting the careers of actors like George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, Raul Julia, Kevin Kline, James Earl Jones, and Martin Sheen. He was larger than life just by being himself.

A story like this, filled with alive, articulate, not to say theatrical people, turned out to be especially suited to the oral history format and, over the course of the next 18 months, I interviewed close to 160 people and turned out what I still consider the most significant and compelling work I've done in more than 40 years of journalism. The story of why something with so much to recommend it would take so many years to appear is in some ways as dramatic and surprising as the book itself.

Working with Joe on a project of this scope was enormously exciting, but I also from time to time feared that, as had happened with others he'd worked closely with, a rift would develop between us. And once he read the manuscript, that is what happened, with a vengeance. Disturbed and troubled, Joe refused to allow the book to be published.

Needless to say, this was devastating. The blow was so severe I had difficulty talking about what transpired for weeks, months, even years after it happened. Finally, perhaps a dozen years after the fact, I wrote a letter to Gail Merrifield Papp, Joe's widow and collaborator and a woman whose clear vision and integrity I had always admired and respected. This project, I said, was too important to die. Was there not some way we could bring it back to life? Gail thought there was and we began to talk.

Eventually I went to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where, as I worked on a new draft, I increasingly felt the powerful responsibility I had to the people who had talked to me at such length. All alone in the woods, I sometimes found myself literally in tears at the thought of the people, Joe first among them, who had been painfully honest about the most significant events of their lives and counted on me to relay their last testament to the world. For roughly 40 of the voices in this book, one out of every four, has died in the two decades since I did the interviewing. No one else will be hearing their stories from their lips, and to read this book is to reenter, as if by magic, a moment in history ripe for rediscovery and amazement. --Kenneth Turan

(Photo © Patricia Williams)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Turan, now the film critic for the Los Angeles Times, was approached by theatrical producer Joe Papp in the 1980s to develop an oral history of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater, then blocked the book from publication after reading an early draft. Years later, we can understand some of Papp's reluctance: former colleagues speak frankly about his failure to share credit for success with others, and why the effort to move his radical style of theater into Lincoln Center met with failure. Papp's personality can be prickly, to say the least; one of his first reactions to a surprise birthday party thrown by his staff was to wonder what else they could be doing behind his back. But stories like this, or accounts of the backstage turbulence on plays like That Championship Season or True West, never overshadow Papp's creative legacy and his engagement with New York City's diverse society. As dozens of actors, from the late George C. Scott and Anthony Quinn to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, share their memories, it's easy to see how the constantly hustling Papp became larger than life just by being himself. (Nov. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Childs on June 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Free for ALL, Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told," by Kenneth Turan & Joseph Papp, is my favorite of the hundred or so theater books I've read over the past twenty years. This book is the best primer I've seen on how theater truly is created, and how it truly works, both backstage and in the producer's office.

The theatrical process doesn't always work smoothly or happily, but somehow Papp held his productions together, and the stories of how he did that are wonderful indeed. In fact, my biggest problem in writing this review was that every time I'd pick up the book again to find a quote or check a fact, I'd start rereading the stories I'd read a couple of days before.

I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was entirely composed of quotes, but the format really works, giving immediacy to each event. Often the reader has a Rashomon experience, as two or more people recount the same meeting or moment in entirely different ways. And the deeply personal feelings expressed by those interviewed make for wonderful insights into them, and into Joe Papp.

When producing, Papp wanted his audiences to see and experience parts of American life they might otherwise avoid: the heartlessness of the Vietnam War (Pavlo Hummel; Sticks and Bones); child molesters in prison (Short Eyes); mastectomies (Mert & Phil); street kids (Runaways); the outbreak of AIDS (The Normal Heart); and the basic hypocrisy and blindness of society (Aunt Dan and Lemon).

He was passionate, infuriating, shrewd, relentless, soft-hearted (at times), ruthless (at times), mercurial, unstoppable, idealistic, pragmatic, often impossible, and brilliant. He left an undeniable mark on the face of American theater that, I hope, will not soon fade away.

If you love the theater, you must read "Free For All". I guarantee you won't regret it.

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Tiemann on November 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind" -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Joe Papp was clearly a revolutionary living in revolutionary times, and his life's story serves as a dramatic lesson about the nature and nurturing of art and culture. And it provides yet another data point--a biographical one--in the Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity debate as to whether commerce or community best serves the interests of creativity and the cultural arts.

"Free for all" teaches how a love of Shakespeare could overcome all obstacles, including public performance and assembly laws, financial challenges, professional skepticism, and, most of all, the engagement of audiences with no prior appreciation of the material whatsoever. And, as the title richly implies, all of this is possible precisely because Shakespeare himself was not there to assert copyright or to impose a DMCA takedown. (It is a great irony that the most significant obstacle to the publication of this book was Papp himself, while he was still alive.) It is therefore, at its core, a story about how a man with a vision and the bare minimum of freedoms to act transformed acting and theater in New York City and then in popular culture around the world.

"Free for all" also teaches (by example) the organic nature of art, and how Papp succeeded where others thought him crazy by starting small, building his audience among an authentic public slowly and organically, and, only then moving productions into larger private venues.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marge Rivingston on December 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having worked with and for Joe Papp for 10 years betweem 1980 and 1990 I enjoyed reading about his life, love of Shakspeare and his dedication to good Theater. For me he was a mentor, hiring me to vocal coach his musicals. He was tough and always fair. Honest to the core and standing always for truth in the Theater. There are many of us who miss him personally and the work he provided for so many talented artists. Marge Rivingston
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cybele_now-L on July 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I paid this book the ultimate compliment: as I could see I was approaching the end, I slowed down, not wanting to finish...and also not being able to put it down!

Ken Turan has recreated a life -- not easy to do, as any great biographer (or novelist) could tell us. Joe Papp's life was large and largely-lived, a life of great passion and great love, and great energy, and joy -- and filled with a lot of hard work. The book captures it all. The Public and the Shakespeare Festival nurtured many a young and talented playwright, gave young actors some of their first moments of glory, and gave all New York a taste for everything from Julius Caesar to a Chorus Line. The alumni list reads like a who's who of theater - and movies, too, for that matter: playwrights David Rabe and Sam Shepard, actors like George C Scott, Coleen Dewhurst, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and directors like Michael Bennett speak through this book. The stories they tell, and that Joe Papp himself tells, are laced with sometimes-painful truths, and all of them glow with the love of the theater and all it means.

Don't like theater? Read it'll find yourself eager to hear the next story and marveling at the power of the will and the drive to create which Joe Papp embodied. Joe Papp, my hat's off to you! and to Ken Turan!
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