(This is from the Public Theater's home page in http://www.publictheater.org)
A Brief History of Joseph Papp Public Theater/NYSF
Founded by Joseph Papp in 1954 as the Shakespeare Workshop and now one of the nation's preeminent cultural institutions, The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival is a theater where all the country's voices, rhythms, and cultures converge. Under the leadership of Producer George C. Wolfe, The Public Theater/NYSF presents full seasons of new plays and musicals, as well as Shakespeare and other classics, both at its home on Lafayette Street and during the summers at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
The ideals of the Theater were formed when Papp brought a group of actors together to perform scenes from Shakespeare's plays for the public, free of charge. Originally based at The Emmanuel Church on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the ensemble began taking productions throughout New York's five boroughs on a flatbed truck, performing in the City's parks. In 1962, the Shakespeare Workshop was officially renamed the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Delacorte Theater in Central Park was erected as the Festival's permanent summertime home, opening with The Merchant of Venice featuring George C. Scott as Shylock. Today Shakespeare in Central Park remains free of charge to audiences, and continues to be one of the City's most beloved cultural traditions.
Since 1967, the Shakespeare Festival's year-round home has been the former Astor Library on Lafayette Street. It opened as The Public Theater with the world premiere of the musical Hair, one of dozens of Public Theater/NYSF productions that would go on to make theatrical history, including No Place to Be Somebody, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, That Championship Season, Short Eyes, A Chorus Line, for colored girls..., Threepenny Opera, Runaways, The Pirates of Penzance, The Normal Heart, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Aunt Dan and Lemon. Following Papp's death in 1991, JoAnne Akalaitis served as artistic director until Wolfe was named Producer in 1993. In 1992, the Astor Library building was rededicated as The Joseph Papp Public Theater.
From its earliest days The Public Theater/NYSF has nurtured the theater's most exciting and individual new voices. The Public's new play development programs are centered around the LuEsther Lab, which is home to dozens of workshops, readings, and theatrical projects, including New Work Now!, a festival of staged readings, and FIRST STAGES, a series that gives audiences a glimpse of plays in the earliest stages of development. This dedication to the contemporary theater is matched by the Theater's ongoing commitment to keeping the classical canon alive within an American idiom, exemplified by the Shakespeare Marathon–a commitment to produce all of Shakespeare's plays, launched by Joseph Papp in 1987 and completed ten years later with a production of Henry VIII, the Bard's last play. The Public is now focusing on the next generation of actors and directors of Shakespeare through an ever-broadening program that includes The Shakespeare Lab, which provides intensive classical training for actors. The Public's mandate to create a theater for all New Yorkers continues to this day both on stage and through its extensive outreach and education programs, which provide access to and a context for the challenging work on its stages.
Public Theater/NYSF productions have collectively won 32 Tony Awards, 120 Obies, 32 Drama Desk Awards, 6 New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, and 3 Pulitzer Prizes. Twenty shows have transferred to Broadway, including A Chorus Line, The Pirates of Penzance, The Tempest, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, and, most recently, On the Town.
The Public Theatre of New York City is composed of four venues:
The Public Theater is not just limited in those places. Some of the shows made by the Public Theater are also performed on Broadway. Perhaps you might have heard of A Chorus Line in 1975 or the Broadway production of The Tempest which starred Patrick Stewart in 1995. As of this writing, The Wild Party starring Eartha Kitt and Mandy Patinkin is playing in the Virginia Theatre right next to the Roseland Ballroom.
However, my favorite place for now is Joe's Pub because of the food and the Ute Lemper cabaret visits made last Summer and October.