ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About the Public Theater's Use of Central Park's Delacorte Theater

By Robert Simonson
August 23, 2012

When the Public Theater stages shows at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, are there discussions between the creative team and the keepers of Central Park?

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Question: I've been to both As You Like It and Into the Woods in Central Park this summer, and have noticed that this year's shows, which are both set in the woods, have incorporated the surrounding area into the set. Does the Public Theater have to do any sort of coordinating with the New York City Parks Department when creating the sets for the Delacorte Theater? — Fred McAlliser, New York, NY.

There's no getting away from nature at the Delacorte — even if it's the sculpted, man-made sort of nature fashioned by Central Park's master architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Trees surround the theatre, and serve as a backdrop to the stage, as does Turtle Pond, the small body of water that lies behind the theatre, with sturdy Belvedere Castle sitting on its bank. (This is to say nothing of the swarms of gnats and other light-loving insects the actors must contend with at every performance.)

The Public Theater has frequently shown its creativity in using the surrounding foliage, drafting the scenery as an impromptu scenic element. One memorable recent instance was the Mike Nichols' staging of Chekhov's The Seagull, in which Konstantin's ill-fated play really did seem to have been staged in the woods, and the family estate was very visibly on the shore of a lake, just as in the play.

The company has been particularly inventive this summer in making the countryside a character in its productions. Some of this has to do with the works being presented. Large parts of both Shakespeare's As You Like It and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods are set in a forest, and set designer John Lee Beatty has not neglected the trees on hand, as well as creating some new trees of his own.

According to Public spokesperson Candi Adams, Beatty OK'd all his plans with the Central Park Conservancy, and no part of the park is harmed during the run of the plays.

"The designers incorporate the beauty of the park into the design by the way they situate it into the surroundings, which are slightly different each year," Adams said. "We coordinate everything that we bring in with CPC, but what appears as a blend of the park and the stage doesn't affect the surrounding area of the park, just what is brought onto the stage."

The Public has good reason to check in with the city, for New York not only has jurisdiction over Central Park, but the 1,872-seat theatre itself. The Delacorte is owned by New York City, but the Public Theater has a long lease on the venue. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Public presenting plays at the Delacorte.

Read more about the history of the Delacorte, a place for Shakespeare and musicals, and view photos from some of its fabled productions.