Downtown Dramatics I: The Public

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The lobby of the Public Theater is enough to fall in love at first sight. Converted from the former Astor Library, its detailed columns, digital chandelier and red glass accents are a gorgeous intersection of historical and modern, much like its productions. Often serving as a bridge between the mainstream, the experimental, and the classical, The Public is the darling of the downtown theatre scene.

Located pracitally on New York University’s campus at Lafayette Street Astor Place, The Public features three different performance spaces, a community mezzanine (which often features interactive installations that correlate to a show in progress), and Joe’s Pub, a cabaret/concert space that features Broadway favorites and up-and-coming writers alike. Even in its inception in 1954, The Public has been seen as a space for new playwrights and directors to be showcased, and this reputation has lived on to this day. With Artistic Director Oskar Eustis at the helm, this theater is constantly showcasing fresh, innovative, and revolutionary work.

In recent years, The Public has expedited many shows to Broadway, including “Fun Home,” which won the Tony Award for Best Musical last season; cult favorite “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson;” and most notably, the unavoidable and unavoidably brilliant “Hamilton.” Additionally, “Eclipsed,” a new play by Danai Gurira from the fall season starring Lupita Nyongo, is transferring to Broadway later this month. Every single performance in “Eclipsed” is astounding, beautifully telling the story of women living in war-torn Liberia, most of whom are current or former wives of a warlord. A story like this is rarely (if ever) tackled onstage, and its entire cast and creative team is comprised of women of color. Its uptown transfer is a testament to how The Public is radically transforming and diversifying multitudes of theatrical communities.

Kicking off this month, the spring season is just as diverse and potentially groundbreaking as the fall’s. The first show set to premiere is “Southern Comfort,” a new musical about a transgender community in the south. The production has faced some public criticism due to its cisgender creative team and primarily cisgender cast (out of eleven actors, two are transgender); however, the story being told is an important and unique one, the likes of which rarely sees the light of predominant stages. A three-part play cycle, “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family” by Richard Nelson, will start in February as well, beginning with “Hunger.” This series follows a family living through an election season, a progression audiences will experience in real time with the 2016 campaigns. The last installment in the series will premiere on election night.

The most star-studded show of The Public’s season is “Dry Powder,” written by Sarah Burgess and directed by Thomas Kail, fresh off of Kail’s successes with “Grease: Live” and “Hamilton.” It also features Hollywood favorites John Krasinski and Claire Danes, making this play the most buzzed-about of the season. If you’re classically inclined, The Public’s affinity for Shakespeare will appear in the late spring and summer, with free Shakespeare In The Park and its Mobile Shakespeare Unit on the mainstage with “Romeo and Juliet.”

Worried about your wallet? Don’t fret — The Public is perfect for a student’s budget. At the beginning of its fall and spring seasons, a lottery is held on the theater-goer’s essential app TodayTix for free tickets to the first preview of every show. These lotteries open the week before performances, so check your phone for this great chance at seeing amazing theatre for free.

General Rush tickets are $20, and are available an hour before performances for matinees and at 6pm for evening shows (it’s definitely recommended to arrive at least 10 minutes before these times to maximize your chances at getting tickets). Student tickets can be purchased in advance for $30.

Bonus Fun Fact: The exterior of The Public was used as the concert hall in the Amazon Prime series “Mozart In The Jungle.”

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Emma Gold is a Highlighter staff columnist. 


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