For all his modest stands and impersonal choices, Eustis has been nurturing a big move of his own, one that might out-Papp even Papp. He has spoken in the past of his belief in “radical accessibility.” When I ask him to elaborate, he speaks deliberately. “There should be nobody economically excluded from seeing this work. I don’t know the best way to do it, but we do have a very successful model in the park: We give them all away.”
For decades, steep ticket prices have hampered every attempt to reform the New York theater: high cost creates risk, which limits audiences and excludes the young, which leads to conservative programming, which saps energy and diversity, which sticks you with the overpriced superannuated mess we’re in today. If Eustis could somehow make every ticket free, that particular Gordian knot would be cut. Is that really what he intends?
He won’t say those words, but he does add that people throughout the organization are “discussing how to execute” a plan for dramatically expanded access. Warren Spector, chairman of the board, agrees that ticket availability is a priority, as long as lowering the price doesn’t seem to devalue the work. Manus agrees, but isn’t sold on free tickets: Beyond the financial concern, she says, they would need a strategy to ensure that a broader audience was really being served.
If Eustis even comes close to this ideal, he wouldn’t just be tending Joe Papp’s legacy, he’d be markedly advancing it. In his pursuit of “democratization,” the watchword for all his efforts, he’d prove that the Public still has an essential role to play in New York’s aesthetic, political, and civic life—a radical one.