News / Arts & Entertainment

Free NYC Outdoor Theater Celebrates 50 Years

Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in the 2001 Shakespeare in the Park production of
Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in the 2001 Shakespeare in the Park production of "The Seagull" at the Delacorte Theater, directed by Mike Nichols. (Photo credit: Michal Daniel)
NEW YORK CITY — The Delacorte Theater, an outdoor venue in New York's Central Park which is home to the beloved summer tradition, "Shakespeare in the Park," is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

In June, actors Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline led an all-star cast in a staged reading of "Romeo and Juliet."

When Kevin Kline was still a student at the Juilliard School for aspiring actors and musicians, he made his professional debut at the Delacorte Theater.

"My first job was carrying a spear in Richard III," he remembers.

Since then, Kline has spent many summers playing in Shakespeare, Chekhov and  Brecht at the Delacorte Theater in New York's Central Park.
  • Joe Papp amid construction of the Delacorte Theater in 1961. (Photo Courtesy of The Public Theater)
  • The Delacorte Theater. (Photo: Joseph Moran)
  • Waiting in line for tickets is part of the Shakespeare in the Park experience. (Photo courtesy of The Public Theater)
  • George C. Scott as Shylock in the 1962 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merchant of Venice, the first production at the Delacorte Theater. (Photo: George E. Joseph/The New York Public Library)
  • Morgan Freeman and George Guidall in the 1990 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte Theater. (Photo: Martha Swope/ ©The New York Public Library)
  • Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in the 2001 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Seagull at the Delacorte Theater, directed by Mike Nichols. (Photo: Michal Daniel)
  • Patina Miller and Tribe in the 2008 Shakespeare in the Park production of HAIR at the Delacorte Theater, directed by Diane Paulus. (Photo: Michal Daniel)
  • Susannah Flood and Will Rogers in the Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It, directed by Daniel Sullivan, running as part of The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park season in Central Park. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

"We keep returning because it is a special, magical experience," Kline says. "When the weather is right, when the production is right, when things are going well, they go better outdoors in the middle of Central Park in the Delacorte. And it’s a testament to Joe Papp’s vision; the fact that it’s free. "

The late producer Joseph Papp grew up in Brooklyn. He never forgot seeing free band concerts in a park as a child.  

As a young man, he wanted to bring free Shakespeare to New Yorkers, says Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater.

"It was the idea that culture in a democracy should be the property of all the people," says Eustis, "regardless of their educational attainment, regardless of their financial status or class status, that everybody had the right to own the best that our culture had to offer."

Papp started in 1956 by having a multicultural troupe perform in a band shell. Then the company expanded, presenting Shakespeare on a truck that toured the city.

One of the stops was in Central Park, by a small lake. Papp wanted to build a permanent theater there, but ran into trouble.

"In 1959, Robert Moses, the all-powerful commissioner of parks in New York City, decided that if we wanted to do Shakespeare in the Park, we had to charge money for it and split it with the parks department so that they could reseed the grass," says Eustis. "Joe Papp said no."  

Eventually, the city agreed to build an amphitheater on the site. On June 18, 1962, the Delacorte opened with "The Merchant of Venice," starring George C. Scott and a very young James Earl Jones.

Since then, more than five million tickets have been handed out for more than 150 productions at the theater. Eustis says one of the beauties of Shakespeare in the Park is that it’s in the center of Manhattan.

"You’re in this beautiful park, but you can also see the skyline of downtown and midtown below you, you can see the apartments on the East Side and the West Side of the park, you see the planes and helicopters going overhead, sometimes to our distress," he says. "You’re at the heart of the life of the city, seeing great art."
 
And great actors performing it, like Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino.

Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep has performed in "The Taming of the Shrew."  

"People in the park, in the audience, feel they are in the play," Streep says. "They're in it with you, you’re sharing this experience."  

In the open air theater, anything can happen. Six years ago, Streep and Kline performed in Bertolt Brecht’s "Mother Courage and Her Children," set during the Thirty Years War. They were constantly at war with the weather.

"It was the rainiest summer New York had ever seen," Streep remembers. "And it never rained on the day off, which was very nice, but in the meantime, we came to the theater. They’d say, 'Okay, 50/50 we’re going on. We’re not sure.'  And we just decided to go on, because it’s war and we all look like hell, anyway."   

"We didn’t want to stop and the audience didn’t want us to stop," Kline says. "So, we played in the rain a few nights and it was magical."

Lily Rabe, who performed in "As You Like It" early this season and once waited in the wings with a raccoon that wandered in from the park, believes nature and Shakespeare are a perfect fit.

"Shakespeare writes so much about things like the sky," she says, "and you get to just look up and it’s right there for you."

"As You Like It" officially opened the 50th season of free "Shakespeare in the Park." That production featured bluegrass music by comedian and actor Steve Martin.

In August, the Delacorte will present Stephen Sondheim’s "Into the Woods."

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”