Each summer the city’s parks and other public spaces come alive with outdoor theater, and especially with the works of William Shakespeare: sparkling comedies, devastating tragedies, sweeping history plays and enchanting romances. Of course, the biggest producer of free outdoor theater is the Public Theater at the Delacorte, where Shakespeare in the Park presents top-notch productions.
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But maybe you don’t have all day to wait on line for a ticket to Shakespeare in the Park. No worries! With less of a time commitment, you can enjoy free theater outdoors—mostly works by the Bard, but also a few others—elsewhere in the city: in Washington Square Park, on Roosevelt Island, even at a municipal parking lot in the Lower East Side. So find a play you want to see, pack snacks and juice (or something stronger) and give it a shot. The productions aren’t as polished as those at the Public, but you may be surprised by the magic that can come of wonderful words, an enthusiastic troupe of actors and a mild summer breeze.
Current and upcoming outdoor theater in NYC
Daniel Sullivan directs a too-rare production of Shakespeare's epic dark comedy, a lampoon of the Trojan War so modern in sensibility that there's no record of it being performed before the late 19th century. The cast features Andrew Burnap and Ismenia Mendes as the title's war-crossed lovers; John Douglas Thompson, David Harbour, Bill Heck and Alex Breaux are among the principal combatants.Read more
Classical Theatre of Harlem anchors the free, alfresco SummerStage festival with a three-week run of Shakespeare's violent tragedy, about a regicidal Scottish lord and the wicked women who goad him on. Carl Cofield directs a cast led by Ty Jones and Roslyn Ruff, and featuring members of Elisa Monte Dance.Read more
A proud Theban king goes to pieces after snubbing the Greek god Dionysus and his pack of wild women in Matthew Gasda's adaptation of Euripides' ripping tragedy. Gorilla Rep founder Christopher Carter Sanderson directs a free production staged alfesco at Central Park's Summit Rock, just north of the entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West.Read more
South Brooklyn Shakespeare gives the Bard's sparkling comedy about identical twins, cross-dressing and cross-gartered socks a film noir twist. Note: This free outdoor Twelfth Night opens at Summer Stroll, July 23 at 6:30 on 5th Ave between 17th and 18th Sts, Park Slope, Brooklyn. The rest of the performances are at the Old Stone House.Read more
New York Classical Theatre mounts a free, outdoor production of Shakespeare's bittersweet portrait of jealousy, love, repentance, ursine pursuit and magical statuary. Company founder Stephen Burdman directs. (Through August 7, performances are in front of Castle Clinton in Battery Park; the final week is at Brooklyn Bridge Park.)Read more
Joe Leffert directs Hip to Hip Theatre Company's account of Shakespeare's historical tragedy, in which Roman senators bloodily veto a popular general after his leadership turns toward tyranny. The production roves through numerous city parks, in rep with the company's lighter-hearted As You Like It.Read more
Barefoot Shakespeare Company mount this summer's third free outdoor production of Shakespeare's suddenly voguish sex comedy, in which a swaggering gold digger breaks the spirit of his headstrong bride via starvation, brainwashing and sleep deprivation. Robert Sniffin directs.Read more
After two decades of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, the Drilling Company now also does shows in Bryant Park. Its current season concludes with the Bard's dark romance, featuring a sexually repressive regent, a voyeuristic duke and a prim nun-to-be. Hamilton Clancy directs.Read more