Joe Papp in Five Acts

90 min

Anticipated June 2022

Joseph Papp truly believed that everyone needs theater . . . and he made sure that everyone in New York City got it. The original architect and presiding spirit of The Public Theater and the Free Shakespeare Festival, Papp produced such innovative works as Hair, A Chorus Line and For Colored Girls…, and offered ethnically diverse casts in Hamlet, The Pirates of Penzance and The Taming of the Shrew. With a narrative in his own voice and rare archival performance footage, this film interweaves 50 years of oral and visual history – bringing the young James Earl Jones to street theater and the unknown Meryl Streep to perform in Central Park. Papp’s commitment to diversity is seen through the people he nurtured – from Vietnam vets to feminists to African American to Latino writers, actors and directors – a generation which permanently changed the face and the pulse of American theater. Co-produced and co-directed by Karen Thorsen and Tracie Holder. 

Joe Papp in Five Acts is the fruit of Tracie Holder’s personal passion for its subject. She met Papp in her previous life as a fundraiser for progressive political candidates, and was inspired to tell his story by the force of his personality and the ideals he fought for. Active in the filmmaking community in New York City, she has been a board member of New York Women in Film & Television and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a consultant for the PBS documentary series P.O.V., and a guest lecturer for film organizations and universities. Holder is currently pursuing a Masters degree at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.

An award-winning writer and filmmaker, Karen Thorsen has focused on the interaction of art and social justice throughout her career. Following a long association with the renowned Maysles Films, she wrote, produced, and directed the feature-length documentary James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. A co-production with PBS/American Masters, Baldwin was honored at festivals including Sundance, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. Subsequently, while developing Joe Papp In Five Acts in collaboration with Tracie Holder, Thorsen continued to write, produce, and direct on her own for The History Channel and other networks, as well as for a series of high-profile museums. Her latest project is Thomas Paine: Voice Of Revolution, a feature-length documentary about the author of Common Sense. Designated as a “We The People” project by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Paine was one of only three films in the nation to be awarded an NEH Scripting Grant in 2011.