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Twelfth Night (Shakespeare in the Park)
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusTwelfth Night (Shakespeare in the Park)

Free outdoor theater this summer in New York

Can’t get into Shakespeare in the Park? Here’s a guide to other free outdoor theater you can find in New York.

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman
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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 Harlem,  Brooklyn, at Riverside Park, even in a Lower East Side parking lot. 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

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Upper East Side

NY Classical Theatre's Stephen Burdman directs a cast of seven in a traveling outdoor production of Shakespeare's convoluted romance (and possible self-parody), which takes one of the Bard’s favorite plot twists—fake death—to a new degree of absurdity. The production starts in Central Park for two weeks, then decamps to Carl Schurz Park and Brooklyn's MetroTech Commons for a week apiece. Tickets are free but reservations are suggested; visit the NYCT website for details. 

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Central Park

Shakespeare in the Park kicks off its 2022 season with a new production of blood-soaked history play Richard III, which imagines the final Plantagenet king as a Machiavellian villain who claws his way to power on the corpses of his family and friends. In this version, directed by Robert O'Hara (Slave Play), the title role will be played by Danai Gurira, known to mass audiences for her roles in The Walking Dead and Black Panther but also a formidable classical stage actor. (She was a superb Isabella in Shakespeare in the Park's 2011 Measure for Measure.) 

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  • Theater
  • Comedy
  • Upper West Side

Hudson Classical Theater Company, which in addition to Shakespeare has recently produced several shows adapted from the swashbuckling books of Alexandre Dumas, now turns its attention to a quite different 19th-century novelist: master Regency romancer Jane Austen. The middle offering of its 2022 season at Riverside Park is free outdoor version of Emma, in which a charming meddler comes to see that she may not know it all. Attendance is free and reservations are not required.

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Harlem

Classical Theatre of Harlem's annual series of free outdoor performances in Marcus Garvey Park, which it bills as Uptown Shakespeare in the Park, plays on with an Afrofuturist riff on Shakespeare's ever-popular comedy of cross purposes, cross-dressing and cross-gartered stockings. Kara Young (Clyde's) stars as the enterprising Viola, with support from an ensemble cast that includes Christina Sajous, Chivas Michael, Allen Gilmore, Israel Erron Ford, William Demeritt, Carson Elrod and Cassandra Lopez. Carl Cofield directs, and Tiffany Rea-Fisher is the choreographer.  

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  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Hell's Kitchen

Hip to Hip offers a rare look at one of Shakespeare's weirdest plays (often coattributed to ne'er-do-well George Wilkins): a kind of Ancient Mediterranean Flash Gordon adventure that includes shipwrecks, contests to win a princess’s hand, a pirate abduction, a virgin in a brothel and a guest shot by the goddess Diana. The show is performed in alternation with Much Ado About Nothing at locations throughout the boroughs and Jersey City, so check out the Hip to Hip website for details.

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Upper West Side

Hudson Classical Theater Company concludes its 2022 summer season of free alfresco classics with a new look at the not-so-great Scots of Shakespeare's tragedy, in which a nobleman and his wife descend into a nightmare of disquiet after planning their monarch's murder. (The company took a previous stab at the play back in 2007.) Reservations are not required.

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  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Hell's Kitchen

Hip to Hip Theatre Company moves from park to park with this staging of Shakespeare's tart-tongued romcom about two too-witty longtime foes whose friends plot to get them together. Presented in rep with the company's take on Pericles, 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.

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
  • Central Park

The summer's second Shakespeare in the Park offering is director Laurie Woolery and songwriter Shaina Taub's enormous musical adaptation of As You Like It, choreographed by Moulin Rouge!'s Tony-winning Sonya Tayeh. The production was originally planned for Summer 2020, and we interviewed Woolery and Taub about it back in 2017, when it was part of the Public's expansive Public Works wing. Several original cast members from that version—Darius de Haas, Joel Perez, Taub herself—will return to their roles, joined by huge ensemble casts drawn from community organizations in all five boroughs. 

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