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.
RECOMMENDED: All Shakespeare in the Park stories
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
New York Classical Theatre visits three NYC parks with its free production of Shakespeare's raucous comedy, a battle of the sexes to which the Geneva Conventions don't apply. Sean Hagerty directs. (For the Central Park performances, enter from Central Park West at 103rd St.)Read more
Every Shakespeare play has its season, and for some reason the Henry IV plays are especially popular this summer. In this free alfresco production directed by Joby Earle, roles are assigned without regard to gender. (The two parts of Henry IV are presented in rep; check Smith Street Stage's website for details.)Read more
In the middle production of Hudson Warehouse's summer trilogy of outdoor classical theater, the company takes a break from Shakespeare to mount Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 comedy, in which a well-born woman poses as a maid to win the affection of a wealthy young man. Ian Harkins directs.Read more
After two decades of summer performances at the same Lower East Side spot, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot relocates to a new outdoor spot a few blocks away, behind the CSV Cultural Center. The new season begins with a production of Shakespeare’s oft-produced comedy, about love-struck nobles romping around the Forest of Arden. Hamilton Clancy directs.Read more
Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater are the Lunt-Fontanne of Shakespeare in the Park. Having already played opposite each other in The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing, the actors now reteam for Shakespeare's convoluted romance (and possible self-parody) that takes the Bard’s favorite plot twist—fake death—to a new degree of absurdity. Daniel Sullivan once again directs them. RECOMMENDED:Our full guide to getting tickets to Shakespeare in the Park.Read more
The Drilling Company concludes its second season of Bryant Park Shakespeare with a free production of this battle-of-the-sexes comedy, in which an unwilling bride comes around after her husband humilates her, starves her and deprives her of sleep. Alessandro Colla directs.Read more