Every summer, people flock to Central Park in New York to score Shakespeare in the Park tickets. This beloved free annual tradition is produced by the Public Theater at the open-air Delacorte Theater. Sure, you could stay at home and stream Shakespeare movies, but the live outdoor theater experience is unique—and certainly one of the best free things to do in NYC. This year’s Shakespeare in the Park productions are Richard III (June 21–July 17) and a musical adaptation of As You Like It (August 10–September 11).
As has been the case since Shakespeare in the Park began in 1962, the Public distributes free tickets, but it takes some dedication to get your hands on them. After two in which distribution shifted largely to a digital lottery, the traditional in-person lineup in Central Park has returned in 2022 as one of six different ways to get tickets. Here are the full details.
RECOMMENDED: Complete guide to Shakespeare in the Park
1. In Central Park at the Delacorte
Tickets are distributed in front of the Delacorte Theater on a first-come, first-served basis at 12pm on the day of the show, so you’ll have to wait in line—likely for a long time—if you want to get in. But it's worth it.
Before you go, you'll need to register for a Public Theater Patron ID. Click here do that.
Central Park doesn’t open until 6am, and although the Public Theater doesn’t condone it, it is legal to camp out before then by the park entrance at Central Park West and 81st Street. A line monitor from the Public will escort any early birds in when the park opens. We recommend this option only for the very desperate; otherwise, arrive no later than 10am—though we recommend much earlier—to give yourself a chance at tickets. Lines tend to be shorter toward the beginning of a given show's run, before the reviews have come out and word of mouth has spread. (Getting there early, however, will not ensure you better sight lines for the performance; seats are distributed randomly, not according to position in line.)
In order to endure the hours-long wait, you’ll need a chair or a blanket, something to occupy yourself and probably something to eat. Make sure to bring an umbrella in case it rains—but don’t worry, shows are very rarely rained out. Also, there will probably be a smaller turnout if it's drizzling, which will increase your chances of snagging a ticket.
Tickets are limited to two per person, and the number of available tickets varies from day to day. There’s no cutting, saving spots or leaving the line for any extended length of time. Patrolling Public Theater staff will ask you to give up your spot in line if you breach any of these rules. There are separate lines for senior citizens (65 and older) who require accessible seating and for patrons with disabilities. (For the latter, attestation to the need for accessible seating is required.)
There is a standby line at the Delacorte each night for tickets that have gone unclaimed. If you're lucky, you may be able to scoop up seats half an hour before the show, though you'll want to get there a while before then to secure a decent position in line.
2. Through the digital lottery
The Public continues its partnership with TodayTix, which offers an exclusive digital lottery for Free Shakespeare in the Park. Tickets are assigned by random draw on the TodayTix app on each date that there is a public performance at the Delacorte Theater. You can enter the lottery for one or two tickets between midnight to noon on the day of the show; if you win, you'll be notified between noon and 3pm, and you must confirm your tickets through the app within 30 minutes. Winners can pick up their tickets at Delacorte between 5:30pm and 7:30pm (the shows begin at 8pm); tickets that have not been claimed by 7:30pm get forfeited to the standby line.
3. Downtown at the Public Theater
Visit Shakespeare in the Park's home base, the Public Theater, to enter the in-person lottery that is held on every show day. Sign-up starts at 11am and the drawing is at noon. If you win, you will receive up to two vouchers that can then be exchanged for tickets at the Delacorte between 5:30pm and 7:30pm. If you don't claim your tickets in time, they will be released to the standby line.
4. In the outer boroughs
On select day, some vouchers are made available at various locations outside Manhattan between 12pm and 2pm (if supplies last that long). These vouchers can then be exchanged for tickets at the Delacorte between 5:30pm and 7:30pm. Visit the Public's website for a complete distribution schedule.
5. In the standby line on the night of the show
There is a standby line at the Delacorte each night for tickets reserved off-site or through the lottery that have gone unclaimed. If you're lucky, you may be able to scoop up seats. Distribution is heaviest after 7:30pm but it can start as early as 6pm, so you'll want to get there before then to secure a decent position in line. Again, before you go, you'll need to register for a Public Theater ID. Tickets are limited to two per person, and the number of available tickets varies from day to day.
6. By donating money to the Public
Okay, this one isn't free. But if you have the money and don't want to leave anything to chance, you can guarantee yourself a ticket by making a tax-deductible donation to the Public Theater. A donation of $300 will earn you a single reserved ticket to Shakespeare in the Park, and $500 will get you a pair. (Depending on their size, donations of more than $100 also give you the right to secure two to four additional seats for $300 a pop.)
Richard III plays June 21–July 17. As You Like It plays August 10–September 11.