The Public Theater Celebrates 60 Years of its Mobile Unit

by Michael Eddy
The Public Theater Mobile Unit
The Public Theater Celebrates 60 Years of its Mobile Unit

From schools to homeless shelters, prisons to community centers, the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit brings Shakespeare to the people, and the people to Shakespeare. The Mobile Unit celebrates the 60th anniversary of its inaugural mobile tour in 1957 which began with a production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Joseph Papp with Bryarly Lee and Stephen Joyce in the titular roles. This season, the Mobile Unit celebrates its six decades of igniting dialogue and fostering new connections with a free three-week tour to the five boroughs bringing Shakespeare to audiences who have limited or no access to the arts before the sit-down run at The Public Theater. 

Further information from The Public Theater (https://www.publictheater.org/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/16-17/Mobile-Unit-Twelfth-Night/)

The 1957 Mobile Unit tour received early support from New York City authorities. Stanley Lowell, then deputy mayor, was an early champion for free theater and mobilized city resources and departments to support Papp's production. The first Mobile Unit rolled up to performance venues across the city in borrowed Department of Sanitation vehicles with a wooden folding stage mounted to a truck bed and portable seating risers to accommodate 700 people per venue.

In honor of the 60th anniversary milestone, the Public is hosting a free sit-down run of the Mobile Unit's Twelfth Night at The Public Theater. Directed by Saheem Ali this new production of the gender-bending, heart-mending comedy, Twelfth Night is a vibrant retelling set to the rhythms of house, Cuban and ‘90s beats. When a young shipwrecked immigrant named Viola takes a chance on the “wet foot, dry foot” policy of the mid-‘90s and washes up amidst the shore of glitzy Illyria, Florida, she finds herself a stranger in a fabulously strange new land. Thinking her twin brother has drowned, Viola throws herself into a new gig as assistant to Orsino, a wealthy Floridian with a serious case of love sickness for a wealthy lady, Olivia. Having disguised herself as a boy to become Orsino’s right hand man, Viola (now Cesario) is tasked with delivering his adoring valentines. But as Viola woos in her boss’s name, she falls head over spiky heels for the man himself, while Olivia turns her affections to the intriguing young messenger boy, Cesario (also Viola). Saheem Ali directs this colorful comedy about the power of new people and new experiences that throw the world into beautiful disarray, and open hearts and minds to the possibility of love.

Twelfth Night features scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Dede Ayite, music composition by Michael Thurber, movement direction by Tanya Birl, and fight direction by Lisa Kopitsky. The sit-down performance running Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, May 14 schedule will be Tuesday through Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (There is an added performance on Monday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m. There is no performance on Friday, April 28 at 7:00 p.m.)

All tickets to this run of Twelfth Night at The Public are FREE. Free tickets will be available via TodayTix Lottery and in-person lottery at The Public Theater. On each performance date, free tickets are distributed via random mobile lottery on the TodayTix app. Download the TodayTix app to enter or visit publictheater.org for more information. On each performance date, a limited number of tickets for that night’s performance are distributed via an in-person lottery downtown at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. Entries will be accepted one and a half hours prior to curtain, and winners will be selected one hour prior to curtain for all performances.