Bard Bargain: Free Summer Shakespeare Performances In NYC

Brian Sloan

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Even 400 years after his death, Shakespeare remains the world’s most popular playwright—and New York City, a world capital of live theater, is among the best places to see his work. In the summer the City’s actors move outdoors as Shakespeare productions pop up in parks, parking lots and every place in between. While the Public Theater’s Central Park shows—known as Shakespeare in the Park—are the most famous, plenty of other theater companies put on the Bard’s plays for free. Here’s our guide to the summer Shakespeare season in NYC.  

Shakespeare in the Park
When: May 24–August 14
Where: Delacorte Theatre, Central Park
Plays: The Taming of the Shrew (May 24–June 26), Troilus and Cressida (July 19–August 14)
The Twist: This is the big one. Since 1962, the Public Theater’s free productions at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater have featured star actors and unusual takes on the classics. This year, Shrew gets an all-female cast, featuring Janet McTeer, Cush Gumbo and Judy Gold. Later in the summer, Broadway vet Daniel Sullivan directs Troilus and Cressida. Set during the Trojan Wars, it’s known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because of its difficult-to-parse tone.
How To: While the tickets are free, they can be tough to come by. You can enter the online or in-person lotteries, or wait in the first-come, first-served lines at the Delacorte itself. 

New York Classical Theatre
When: May 31–August 14
Where: Citywide
Plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 31–July 17), The Winter’s Tale (July 18–August 14)
The Twist: These summer Shakespeare productions roam around whatever outdoor location they're set in—you're expected to move along with the actors to follow the play. The ensemble usually choose large spaces to work in; this year's venues include Battery Park City, Carl Schurz Park and Prospect Park (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), as well as Castle Clinton and Brooklyn Bridge Park (The Winter’s Tale).
How To: There are no seats, so you don’t need tickets. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk a bit to follow the actors. You may want to bring along a blanket too.

Hudson Warehouse Summer Stage
When: June 2–August 21
Where: Riverside Park
Plays: Much Ado About Nothing (June 2–26), Othello (July 28–August 21)
The Twist: Hudson Warehouse specializes in stripped-down Shakespeare with a modern spin, minimal props and sets, and sometimes recognizable names—last summer’s Henry IV, Part 1 featured Steve Guttenberg as the Earl of Northumberland. This year they’ll stage Shakespeare’s comedy of errors and eros, Much Ado About Nothing, along with Othello, a dark drama of jealousy and revenge.
How To: Enter the park at West 89th Street, off Riverside Drive; the “stage” is on the North Patio of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. There’s seating on benches and stairs of the monument, with some cushions provided first come, first serve. You can bring your own folding chair, but arrive early—there’s limited space. Showtime is 6:30pm. Admission is free, but the company appreciates donations. 

Shakespeare Downtown
When: June 7–25
Where: Castle Clinton
Play: Romeo and Juliet
The Twist: This company presents Shakespeare as audiences experienced it back in the Bard’s times: in the round and outdoors. This summer’s production tackles many readers’ introduction to Shakespeare: that classic tale of two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
How To: Seating is limited to 200, with free tickets distributed at 5pm for a 6:30pm showtime. Shows are Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Inwood Shakespeare Festival
When: June 8–25
Where: Inwood Hill Park
Play: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Twist: The Moose Hall Theatre Company has been presenting Shakespeare in this scenic uptown park for 17 years. This production may be their last, at least for a while. They’re going out with a production of The Two Gentleman of Verona that includes the usual Shakespearean star-crossed lovers and cross-dressing heroines along with clowns and, sure, a real dog onstage.
How To: Enter the park at the end of West 218th Street and head to the Inwood Pennisula, which juts out into the Harlem River. Bring a blanket and enjoy the show (Wed­.–Sun., 7:30pm), not to mention the view.

Shakespeare in Carroll Park
When: June 8–26
Where: Carroll Park
Play: The Tempest 
The Twist: Smith Street Stage doesn’t plan any gimmicks for this production of The Tempest, but the company’s growth since its 2010 debut has been remarkable. The group had just five actors for its first production, Romeo and Juliet. Now its 30-plus members perform for thousands over the course of June in Brooklyn’s Carroll Park.
How To: Bring a blanket and maybe a pillow to sit on—the show takes place on a paved plaza inside the park. Space is limited, so arrive early. Showtime is 7:30pm (Wed.–Sun.). 

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
When: July 7–August 14
Where: Clemente Solo Vélez Cultural Center
Plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (July 7–24), The Merchant of Venice (July 28–August 14)
The Twist: As its name suggests, the Drilling Company’s series of Shakespeare performances takes place in parking lots on NYC’s Lower East Side—lending a decidedly urban twist to the alfresco Shakespeare concept. This year the troupe puts on two comedies in its new home on the asphalt behind the Clemente Solo Velez Cultural and Educational Center: the romantic  Midsummer Night’s Dream and the sometimes-controversial Merchant of Venice.
How To: Just show up. It’s first come, first served for the chairs set up in the parking lot, so arrive an hour or so before the 8pm showtime. Alternatively, BYO chair or blanket. 

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Classical Theatre of Harlem
When: July 8–31
Where: Marcus Garvey Park
Play: Macbeth
The Twist: This outdoor take on Macbeth, Shakespeare’s bold, bloody tale of a murderously ambitious king, is set in Ethiopia during the early 20th century and features an all-black cast. 
How To: Just show up and find a seat in the park’s amphitheater. Showtime is usually 8pm, with a later start on Fridays at 8:30pm (performances take place Tuesdays through Sundays). 

Shakespeare in Bryant Park
When: July 21–September 18
Where: Bryant Park
Plays: As You Like It (July 21–23), Measure for Measure (September 1–18)
The Twist: The Drilling Company—the folks behind Shakespeare in the Parking Lot— also put on shows in Bryant Park. In July there’s a transfer from last year’s parking lot season—a production of Shakespeare’s magical comedy As You Like It, taking place in Victorian times with a steampunk-themed journey through the Forest of Arden. In September they’ll present the comedy Measure for Measure—but set in the American South and with a focus on the show’s strong female characters.
How To: Admission is free and there is no ticketing, so just arrive early for a spot on the park’s lawn or a folding chair. Showtimes vary: Thursdays are at 6:30pm, Fridays at 9pm and Sundays (usually) at 2pm.

Hip to Hip Theatre Company
When: July 27–August 28
Where: Citywide
Play: As You Like It, Julius Caesar
The Twist: This company specializes in abridged, family-friendly productions of Shakespeare that clock in at 90 minutes. This summer they tackle gender-bending comedy As You Like It and political drama Julius Caesar at venues all over the city—the Harlem Meer in Central Park, Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx among them.
How To: Showtimes vary, so check the schedule for details. If you have kids, consider arriving an hour before showtime for sessions designed to help them connect with Shakespeare’s work.


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