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Central Park's Delacorte Theater celebrated as it takes a pause for renovations

Delacorte Theater celebrated as it takes a pause for renovations
Delacorte Theater celebrated as it takes a pause for renovations 02:33

NEW YORK -- The 61-year-old Delacorte Theater, a Central Park landmark, is taking a pause for renovations.

Actors, politicians and administrators gathered Tuesday to talk about where the theater has been and where it's headed.

"All the world's a stage," actor Liev Schreiber said.

The words of Shakespeare were spoken at the Delcorte Theater ahead, beginning a noisy upgrade.

"This realm, this Delacorte," actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson said.

It's getting a stage with enhanced technology and improved concessions, bathrooms and dressing rooms.

"This will be an incredibly accessible place," Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis said.

Eustis is keeping up the tradition of presenting Shakespeare -- and sometimes Chekhov, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Sondheim -- always free for all.

"You're not buying what's up on stage. You're sharing what's up on stage," he said.

The late Joseph Papp officially opened the Delacorte in 1962 with "The Merchant of Venice."

Summer after summer, the Public's free Shakespeare in the Park attracts legendary actors like Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman and Liev Schreiber, who had one very unexpected co-star.

"When I was doing 'Macbeth,' there was a raccoon that came out centerstage," Schreiber said. "And the minute I started to play the speech to the raccoon, he kind of looked bored and waddled back off."

Surviving storms, bugs, leaky dressing rooms and paltry wages was fun, said Nikki M. James, who was in "The Tempest" and "Julius Caesar."

"It's my favorite place to see theater. It's my favorite place to do theater," she said. "Non-traditional casting, sort of reimagining."

Kevin Kline, who starred in "Richard III," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Pirates of Penzance," recalls humble beginnings. 

"My first was the guy, the fourth guy from the left holding a spear," Kline said.

Actor Sam Waterston remembered a stranger who waited for him in the park after a performance of "Hamlet."

"And he said, 'Man, that was right off the street,' and it's the best thing anybody ever said about any performance I've ever given," Waterston said.

Free productions will move to other unannounced spots during the renovations.

A big announcement at Tuesday's gathering -- the fund for free theater, $150 million.

Free Shakespeare in this Park will be back home at the Delacorte in 2025.

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