Even 400 years after his death, Shakespeare remains the most popular playwright on the planet—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 in one-of-a-kind settings as well. Here’s our guide to the summer Shakespeare season in NYC.
Shakespeare in the Park
Julius Caesar: May 23–27 and 29–31; June 1–3, 6–13 and 15–18; 8pm
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: July 11–15, 17–22, 24–29 and 31; August 1–3, 5–6 and 8–13; 8pm
Since 1962, The Public Theater’s free productions at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park have featured star-studded casts and unusual takes on the classics. This year, The Public’s artistic director—Oskar Eustis—directs Julius Caesar. Later in the summer, Phylicia Rashad and Annaleigh Ashford star in one of The Bard’s greatest hits, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
New York Classical Theatre
Macbeth: July 31 and August 1–2, 4–9, 11–16 and 18–20 (The Battery)
August 22–23 and 25–27 (Brooklyn Bridge Park); 7pm
New York Classical Theatre’s productions roam around various outdoor locations, so be prepared to walk a bit and bring a blanket to sit on. This season, the company presents The Scottish Play, aka Macbeth, first at The Battery, then at Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re interested in the process behind the production, rehearsals are open to public too (July 10–15, 17–22 and 24–29, noon–5:30pm).
Richard III: June 14–18 and 21–25, 6:30pm
This troupe presents Shakespeare as audiences first experienced it: in the round, outdoors and just off the water. The show this summer at Castle Clinton in The Battery will be Richard III, the story of a murderously evil king. Seating is limited to 200, with free tickets distributed at 6pm for the 6:30pm show.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
All’s Well That Ends Well: July 6–8, 13–15 and 20–22, 7pm
Henry VI, Part III: July 27–29; August 3–5 and 10–12, 7pm
The Drilling Company has presented Shakespeare’s works in parking lots on NYC’s Lower East Side since 1995; its current home is just behind The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. This year, the asphalt-bound productions are the comedy All’s Well That Ends Well and the historical drama Henry VI, Part III.
Shakespeare in Bryant Park
The Merry Wives of Windsor: May 19–20 and 26–27; June 2–3; 7pm
Twelfth Night: July 28–29, 7pm; July 30, 3pm
The Tempest: August 25–26; September 1–2 and 8–9; 7pm
The Drilling Company, those Shakespeare in the Parking Lot guys, has been expanding its season with uptown productions of The Bard in beautiful Bryant Park. First up this year is the rollicking comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, followed by a one-weekend-only run for Twelfth Night. It wraps up the summer with a bang (cue storm) by presenting The Tempest, featuring songs by Natalie Smith and Andrew Gombas.
Smith Street Stage
Richard III: June 7–11, 14–18 and 21–25, 7:30pm
In 2010, Smith Street Stage had just five actors for its debut production, Romeo and Juliet. Now the company has grown to include more than 30 members, who’ve performed for thousands over the course of seven summers in Brooklyn’s Carroll Park. This season it presents what seems to be a popular play these days: Richard III, Shakespeare’s tragic tale of a mad and murderous king.
Free Shakespeare in the Parks
Henry IV, Part I: The Prince and the Rebel and Measure for Measure: July 25–August 20
Hip to Hip Theatre Company specializes in family-friendly Shakespeare productions that clock in at 90 minutes. This series tours Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx with shows in various City parks. The free theater workshops for children, which start a half hour before showtime, utilize games and interaction with the text to help kids connect to the characters.
Hudson Warehouse Summer Stage
Henry V: July 27–30; August 3–6, 10–13 and 17–20; 6:30pm
Hudson Warehouse’s Shakespeare productions—staged on the expansive North Patio of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park—have taken place in the 16th and 17th centuries, in modern times, and even an apocalyptic setting. The orange glow of the sunset over the greenery in the backdrop adds to the beauty of each performance. This year, the company will put on the rousing Henry V.