Public spaces come alive with free outdoor theater in New York City in the summer, and especially with the plays of William Shakespeare. The top destination, of course, is the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, where the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park presents excellent productions that among New York's best things to do in the summer. But you can also enjoy plays by Shakespeare and other classical masters elsewhere in the city: in Brooklyn, at Bryant Park, even at a parking lot in the Lower East Side. You might be surprised by the magic that can come from wonderful words, inventive actors and a mild summer breeze.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do outside in NYC
Free outdoor theater in NYC
The second play in Shakespeare in the Park's 2019 season is this rarely performed tragedy, in which the hoi polloi of Rome turn against an arrogant war hero (and lifelong mama's boy) when he refuses to show off his scars. The reliably insightful Daniel Sullivan directs the production; the cast includes Jonathan Cake, Kate Burton, Louis Cancelmi, Jonathan Hadary, Teagle F. Bougere, Amelia Workman and Enid Graham.
Jason Marr plays the title character in Shakespeare’s Tudor-friendly history play, which imagines the final Plantagenet king as a malicious hunchback who clambers to power on the corpses of his family and friends. Directed by David Frederick Mold for the peripatetic Hip to Hip Theatre Company, the show is presented in rep with the company's A Midsummer Night's Dream in parks in all five boroughs and beyond; visit Hip to Hip's website for details.s.
Hip to Hip Theatre Company moves from park to park with this staging of Shakespeare's perennially popular farce about ass heads and fairy tail, directed by S.C. Lucier and presented in rep with the company's take on Richard III. The production roams through multiple boroughs but never plays the same spot twice in a row, so consult Hip to Hip's website for details.
American Thymele Theatre's 11th annual New York Euripides Summer Festival travels to three locations to perform two rarely seen plays by the Ancient Greek master. Stephen Diacrussi directs Iphigenia Among the Taurians, in which a tormented Orestes discovers that his sister is still alive; Annabelle Lau directs Daughters of Troy, in which refugee Trojan women moan themselves hoarse.
Hudson Warehouse wraps up its 2019 season with an outdoor production of Shakespeare's minor farce, which plucks Falstaff from the Henry IV plays and plunks him down in a ribald comedy. Director Nicholas Martin-Smith updates the setting to a Borscht Belt resort hotel in the 1960s.
Theater for the New City takes its 43rd annual Street Theater Company show on the road, bringing agitprop to outdoor locations throughout the five boroughs. Crystal Field and Joseph Vernon Banks's family-friendly (but corporation-hostile!) musical allegory pits a social worker and Pluto, lord of the Underworld, against a vile and dangerous real-estate huckster turned politician.
Rude Grooms presents Shakespeare's family-feud tragedy, in which rebellious teens have sex and score drugs from a local priest. Montgomery Sutton directs the free 90-minute production, which plays outdoors in various different parks in Queens (and indoors on August 18 at the Plaxall Gallery).
Melissa Bell imagines the life of Juliet's mother in the years before the events of Romeo and Juliet this classical prequel. Emily Gallagher directs Barefoot Shakespeare Company's free alfesco production in Central Park.
The Drilling Company wraps up its 2019 Bryant Park season with an account of the Bard's fast-paced tragedy of jealousy and misplaced trust, in which a villain preys on the insecurities of a Moorish war hero married to a white woman.
Disney's 1997 animated musical about the mythic Greek strongman finally makes it to the stage, with a book by Kristoffer Diaz to go with songs by Alan Menken and David Zippel. This free outdoor production in Central Park is directed by Lear deBessonet for the Public Theater's civically ambitious Public Works program; Jelani Alladin (Frozen) plays our muscle-bound hero.