Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
On With the Show: Fifty Years of the Public Theater
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into five sections:
  • Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
  • Steps -- Conducting the lesson
  • Extensions -- Additional activities
  • Tips -- Managing resources and student activities
  • Community Connections -- Real world actions for students after completion of the lesson


Media Components

  • Computer Resources:

    • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
    • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
    • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
    • Software: Any presentation software such as Power Point or Hyperstudio (optional), and word processing programs like Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, ClarisWorks, AppleWorks, etc.
    • RealPlayer
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or higher. Download the free Adobe Acrobat reader here:

  • Materials:

    Teachers will need the following supplies:

    • Copies of the STUDENT ORGANIZER
    • Board and/or chart paper
    • Ideally a screen on which to project the Web-based video clips
    • Handouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom
    • Video of NEW YORK VOICES,"The Public" at 50, Episodes #520 and #521

    Students will need the following supplies:

    • computers with the capacities indicated above
    • notebook or journal
    • pens/pencils

  • Bookmarked sites and video resources:

    Tip: Before teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, create a word-processing document with all of the Web sites listed as hyperlinks, upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as, or make paper handouts of necessary Web pages so that students can access the information on these sites. Make sure that your computer has necessary media players, like RealPlayer, to show streaming clips (if applicable).

    Please preview all of the sites and videos before presenting them to your class.


    • New York Voices
      "The Public" at 50
      Conceived in the wake of 9/11, New York Voices is Thirteen/WNET New York's prestigious local programming series that provides a forum for new voices about building community in the five boroughs. "The Public" at 50 is a fascinating portrait of The Public Theater's people, and their roles in revitalizing the theater and the city. We have included clips from the program in the lesson plan - just click on the video screen when you see it and the video clip will play on your computer desktop for viewing.

    Web sites


Introductory Activity

Crowd of People Gail Papp
Joseph Papp's wife (widow)

Bernard Gerston Bernard "Bernie" Gerston
Executive Producer; Joe Papp's former partner

George Wolfe George C. Wolfe
Theater Director; has directed numerous plays

  • Start the lesson by playing two video clips about how Joseph Papp got involved in theater as a young boy and how he fell into it later as a profession. Click on the video links on this lesson plan or play the two clips from a video recording of the NY Voices program "The Public" at 50. Cue the video for the kids to when you hear a woman say "Well, I think Joe is essentially a creative person..." and stop at "...he didn't seem to be fazed or intimidated by the language." Start the next segment when you hear a man say "We met at the Actors Lab in Los Angeles..." and stop the video at "...and the study of the works of Shakespeare."

  • The focus and mission of the Public Theater has been "embracing the complexities of contemporary society and nurturing both artists and audiences, as it continues Joseph Papp's legacy of creating a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas." Another aspect of its mission is to provide free shows and readings, including its annual Shakespeare in the Park performances, to the public. Play the third video clip for the students or if you have the program, start the video when you hear a man say "The phenomenon of what Shakespeare in the Park is, is astonishing..." and stop the tape at " a part of the celebration that everything this city is." Have students consider the following questions in light of what they just heard:

    • Have you been to see a theater production? What did you enjoy about the experience?
    • Why is it important to introduce all citizens to theater?
    • What's the difference between seeing a movie and a live show?
    • Why does the Public Theater offer free tickets to Shakespearean plays?
    • What is the impact of theater on young people?
    • What is the "mission" or the guiding philosophy of the Public Theater, in your own words?
    • Why is it important to have a place to showcase new American playwrights?
Learning Activity:

  • Now that you have learned a little about the Public Theater and its mission, you have been assigned to determine the shows that will be part of the Theater's next season. The directors of the Public Theater have decided that they would like present the plays from Wendy Wasserstein, David Henry Hwang and Sam Shepard.

  • Before dividing the class into three groups, play the fourth video clip from "The Public" at 50, in which Joseph Papp describes why producing modern works is so important for theater to remain robust. If you have a copy of the show, start the video when you hear Joseph Papp say "I've always wanted to do new plays..." and end the segment after "...otherwise, it's a museum piece." After the students have seen the video, assign a playwright to each group. As a group, the students will research the playwright and collectively select one play that would have the greatest impact aesthetically, politically, historically, and culturally on the audience. Students can consider the following questions or criteria when making their play selections:

    Joe Papp Joseph Papp
    Founder of The Public Theater in New York.

    • Was the play well received?
    • Did it win any awards?
    • What is the main message of the play?
    • Is the play a commentary on society?
    • Does the play represent a certain time period or geographical area?
    • Does the play reflect the society of the time in which it is based?
    • How well-known is the play?
    • Does the play appeal to a wide range of theatergoers?
    • Was the play revolutionary or ground-breaking in any way?
    • Does the play fit the mission of The Public Theater?

  • Once the group has picked the play, they should all know and understand the main plot, the context, the setting and the characters in the play. Either during class time or as a homework assignment, students can go to newspaper or theater guide Web sites to read reviews of past performances, or they can visit for general background information on the playwrights and their plays.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:

  • Now that the plays have been chosen, each group is responsible for creating a press kit or playbill to announce and publicize the new season.

  • Regardless of the final project, each press package or playbill must include the following:

    • A press release or essay explaining why the play has been chosen (historical, political, social and cultural reasons) and all of the details about performance dates.
    • A biography of the playwright
    • A list of all of the playwright's work
    • A casting list for all of the characters and a brief biography of the actors
    • Information about the historical time period or city that the play takes place in
    • A sample print advertisement that will be featured in newspapers and magazines for the press kit OR a cover for the playbill
    • Acknowledgements - this should serve the same function as a bibliography for all the resources you used to produce all of the information

    Feel free to use the "ORGANIZING CHART AND ASSIGNMENTS" organizer to help you coordinate the group's efforts.


    • The teacher may want to bring in sample playbills to the students to use as a model.
    • The groups may also want to include advertisements to fill in some of their pages.
Extension Activities

Additional Activities:

  • As an extension, perform one of the plays the students have chosen. If there isn't time to perform and study the whole play, act out one scene or act.

  • The Public Theater is involved in training a new generation of classical performers and creating opportunities for new writers through the "Shakespeare Lab," an annual summer acting intensive and play reading series. For students who are interested in the Dramatic Arts, they can develop an in-school or afterschool workshop modeled after the Shakespeare Lab, where they can work on acting and producing self-created works as well as reading new and classic plays by established playwrights. In creating the workshop, students can consider the following:

    1. What is the mission of the workshop?
    2. Will there be someone like a teacher or instructor to act as an advisor for the workshop?
    3. Will there be a formal syllabus for the workshop?
    4. Will students perform a play as the culminating project? If so, how will you find funding sources?
    5. Do you want to invite theater professionals to give guest lectures, discussions and demonstrations?

  • Another extension of the "Shakespeare Lab" idea is to create a playwriting class or playwriting club for students who are interested in writing.

  • Ask the students to find out whether there are public theaters in other parts of the country. As examples, tell students to check out the Pittsburgh Public Theater and The Public Theater of South Florida. Ask students to write an essay comparing the Public Theater in New York with a theater in a different geographical area. Encourage students to contact the theaters directly and perhaps even conducting some interviews of key staff. Some questions that students can respond to are: Why did these other public theaters start? Do they have missions similar to the Public Theater in New York? Are their missions shaped by the community in which the theater is located, and if so, how?

Cross-Curricular Extensions:

  • Literature
    read the play in class and hold a book group or book discussion.

  • History
    study the time period during which one of the plays takes place.

  • Drama
    watch clips from any of the encore presentations shown on Thirteen following NEW YORK VOICES: "The Public" at 50.

Community Connections:

  • Perform one of the plays chosen for the project for the school community, friends and family.

  • Submit your ideas (or the actual press kit or playbill) to The Public Theater.

  • Have students attend a theater performance and ask them to write a critical review of the show. Ask students to consider the following criteria when viewing the play:

    1. Quality of playwriting, acting, set design, costume design, light and sound effects
    2. Audience response to the story and presentation
    3. Would this play work well in The Public Theater? Why or why not?

Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students