Public Works

ABOUT PUBLIC WORKS: Theater of, by and for the people.

PUBLIC WORKS is a major initiative of The Public Theater that seeks to engage the people of New York by making them creators and not just spectators. Working with community partner organizations in all five boroughs, Public Works invites community members across New York City to take classes, attend productions, and join in the creation of ambitious works of participatory theater.

Led by Founder Lear deBessonet and Public Works Director Laurie Woolery, Public Works deliberately blurs the line between professional artists and community members, creating theater that is not only for the people, but by and of the people as well.

Public Works exemplifies The Public’s long-standing commitment to community engagement that is at the core of the theater’s mission. It is animated by the idea that theater is a place of possibility, where the boundaries that separate us from each other in the rest of life can fall away. It seeks to create a space where we can not only reflect on the world as is, but where we can actually propose new possibilities for what our society might be.

play_circle_outline Public Works Year 2
play_circle_outline Public Works: Culture Belongs to Everyone

Public Works National is a network of theaters that will be gathering to share practices and help build momentum around community-based theater nationwide.

The founding National Partners are Dallas Theater Center (Dallas, TX), The National Theatre (London, UK) and Seattle Repertory Theatre (Seattle, WA).

The Public Works National Affiliates are Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, Connecticut), Pittsburgh Public Theater (Pittsburgh, PA), Theatre Under The Stars (Houston, TX), Trinity Repertory Company (Providence, RI), Tulsa Performing Arts Center and Trust (Tulsa, OK), Virginia Stage Company (Norfolk, VA), Williamstown Theatre Festival (Williamstown, MA).

Collectively, these theaters are seeking to put theater at the heart of every community, and community at the heart of every theater.
Company of National Theatre Pericles

Lead support for PUBLIC WORKS is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Tow Foundation, the Abrams Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation,  Open Society Foundations, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., The One World Fund, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Gray Foundation, Leon Levy Foundation, The SHS Foundation, and The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Hercules, 2019

Twelfth Night, 2018

As You Like It, 2017

Twelfth Night, 2016

Twelfth Night

The Odyssey, 2015

The Winter's Tale, 2014

Winter's Tale

The Tempest, 2013
The Tempest

About Our Community Partners
Strong community partnerships form the bedrock of Public Works. The Public Works program partners with eight community organizations across all five boroughs of New York City, working with a holistic 360 degree approach to theater and relationship building.  Community members are invited to attend classes, workshops, and monthly potlucks; they engage in conversation around both the work they are seeing and are making; they also serve as ambassadors for the art form in their own communities.  Then, Public Works joins with these individuals and organizations to create ambitious works of participatory theater every summer.

Brownsville Recreation Center

Located in Brooklyn, Brownsville Recreation Center is a branch of the New York City Parks Department.  With extensive resources for youth and seniors, the center offers a vibrant space to tap into pursuits artistic and athletic alike. Over the course of the partnership with Public Works, senior citizens have participated in dance, theater, storytelling, and scene study classes led by Public Theater teaching artists. BRC members have performed in every Public Works pageant since the first year of the program. The seniors also performed pieces they’ve developed in classes many times at The Public Theater and the BRC. In the spring of 2015, the center hosted the first ever Public Works Palooza, featuring community performances from all the Public Works partner classes, including their own adaptation of Steel Magnolias. Learn more at

Casita Maria Center for Arts And Education

Founded in 1934, Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education is the oldest Latino charity in New York City. Its mission is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities. It is one of the few organizations in the South Bronx that welcomes kids at the age of six and stays with them until college while providing family learning through the arts. It is also different in the plurality of ways in which it can attract community members to utilize its services. Students introduce their parents to the Center's cultural programs, while public programs guide parents to the wide ranging educational programs offered.  Casita Maria's work pervades the community, and its positive influence pervades the generations. It envisions being a vital contributor to the South Bronx renaissance, fostering culturally and artistically vibrant neighborhoods which effectively prepare the next generation for success. Learn more at

Center For Family Life Sunset Park

Center for Family Life in Sunset Park is a neighborhood-based social service organization in Brooklyn. Its mission is to promote positive outcomes for children, adults and families in Sunset Park through the provision of a comprehensive range of family and social services. The Center’s programs are designed to reinforce the role of the agency as a stabilizing anchor in the community, one that provides culturally consonant services and creates environments where participants’ strengths are recognized and they are treated as valued partners rather than subjects. Programs include family counseling and neighborhood-based foster care; cultural, educational and recreational programs at neighborhood public schools, adult and youth employment programs; and an emergency single stop storefront for food, advocacy, and legal aid. Through these programs, CFLSP serves over 16,000 children and adults each year at 8 community locations. Learn more at

Children's Aid Society

Located in Manhattan, Children's Aid provides comprehensive support to children in targeted New York City neighborhoods. The organization aims to connect young people and their families with the tools they need to learn, grow, and become leaders of their own lives. As part of Public Works, the Children’s Aid Society Chorus (a group of teenage girls led by Kelly Campbell) attended shows at Joe’s Pub, attended regular Public Theater performances, and received master classes in singing, songwriting, movement, and acting. The chorus performed songs they developed in classes at The Public Theater and other events.  In 2015, Public Works also partnered with the CAS Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teen program, where deaf and hard of hearing youth studied the intersection of Shakespeare poetry and sign language. Their work culminated in a community performance of excerpts from Romeo and JulietLearn more at


Domestic Workers United

Domestic Workers United is a city-wide organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York, organizing for power, respect, and fair labor standards, and to help build a movement to end exploitation and oppression for all. As part of Public Works, members have read and discussed dozens of plays in a monthly play reading and luncheon group. Plays have included EurydiceFor Colored Girls…,A Raisin in the SunAntigoneThe House of Bernarda AlbaMother Courage and Her Children, and many others.  Members also attend regular performances at The Public. Learn more at

DreamYard Project

Located in the Bronx, DreamYard was recognized by President Obama with a 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The organization provides transformative arts education for youth in the Bronx through school-based and out-of-school programs and supports young people as they work toward higher learning, meaningful careers and social action. As part of Public Works, DreamYard youth have participated in workshops and intensives in performing Shakespeare, and in generative movement led by artists from The Public, along with attending performances in The Public’s season. The parents of DreamYard students also participate in weekly Shakespeare scene study classes led by Public Theater artists. In addition to the Public Works pageants, this group has performed excerpts from Shakespeare plays multiple times at The Public Theater, the DreamYard Art Center, and other partner sites. Learn more at

Fortune Society

Located in Queens, The Fortune Society is a nonprofit social service and advocacy organization, founded in 1967, whose mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration thus strengthening the fabric of their communities. Drawing upon the life experience of Fortune's formerly incarcerated staff and clients, they offer a holistic, "one-stop" model which includes: alternatives to incarceration, counseling, career development, education, housing services, HIV/AIDS-case management, substance abuse treatment, family services, and lifetime aftercare, among other services. As part of Public Works, members participate in a full year of classes in playwriting, acting, improvisation, storytelling, clown, and production. The Fortune Tellers, the group that has emerged from these classes, has performed their original pieces many times at The Public Theater, the Fortune Society campuses, and other partner sites. Learn more at

Military Resilience Foundation

Military Resilience Foundation has a strong belief that resiliency and reintegration have as much to do with us in the community as it does those who have served.  The mission at the Military Resilience Foundation is to create opportunities for individual men and women who have served in the military to engage in community-based events that honor their unique experiences, while allowing those experiences to become part of a shared narrative.  In addition to performing the Public Works pageant, MRF members have presented Shakespeare scenes and plays in classes and at the Public Theater. Learn more at