Public spaces come alive with free outdoor theater in New York City in the summer, and especially with plays by William Shakespeare: sparkling comedies, devastating tragedies, sweeping histories and enchanting romances. Of course, the biggest destination for free outdoor theater is the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, where the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park presents top-notch productions.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do outside in NYC
But although Shakespeare in the Park is one of the best things to do in NYC in the summer, maybe you don’t have all day to wait on line for a ticket. No worries! With less of a time commitment, you can enjoy free theater by Shakespeare (and Euripides!) elsewhere in the city: in Brooklyn, at Bryant Park, even at a 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 may not be as polished as those at the Public, but you might be surprised by the magic that can come from wonderful words, inventive actors and a mild summer breeze.
Current and upcoming outdoor theater in NYC
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
Love makes asses of humans and fairies alike in Shakespeare’s classic farce, in which a bossy Bottom falls into a wild world of drugged-up fairy sex. Christopher Carter Sanderson revives his Gorilla Rep production in a wandering, free production that begins at the southwest corner of Washington Square Park.Read more
The Public continues its civically ambitious Public Works program, devoted to collaborating with multiple New York communities to create large-scale theater, in a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's ever-popular comedy of cross purposes, cross-dressing and cross-gartered socks. Director Kwame Kwei-Armah coordinates a huge pageant that includes seasoned performers—Nikki M. James, Jose Llana, Jacob Ming-Trent, Andrew Kober and composer Shaina Taub—alongside more than 200 other actors and residents of all five boroughs.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 a version that sets the action in New Orleans.Read more