Marilyn Strauss, the Tony Award-winning Broadway producer who was inspired by Joe Papp to bring free Shakespeare to her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, passed away September 15 at age 91.
Strauss earned a Tony Award as co-producer on Da, Hugh Leonard’s memory play about an Irish man’s troubled relationship with his father, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1978.
Strauss split her time between New York and Kansas City in the 1970s and early 1980s, producing the Broadway productions of Rockabye Hamlet, The Night of the Tribades, and the 1982 musical Pump Boys and Dinettes.
It was her dedication to making theatre accessible to all that became the defining achievement of her theatrical legacy.
At the encouragement of Public Theater founder Joseph Papp, Strauss began a campaign in the early 1990s to establish a free Shakespeare Festival—akin to New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park—in Kansas City’s Southmoreland Park.
“You’re a Kansas City native. There’s not a festival there. You made it in New York and on Broadway – now, give something back, something you personally create.You can’t beat the feeling, kiddo. Do it now, make it the best, and keep it FREE!,” she wrote in her founder’s note for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, which presented its premiere production in 1993.
This past summer Heart of America Shakespeare Festival presented Much Ado About Nothing, celebrating its 26th season of free Shakespeare in Southmoreland Park.