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The Ultimate Guide to Free Summer Theater in New York

by Photo of Natalie Sacks

NYC theater moves outdoors for an assortment of free summer entertainment.

The Ultimate Guide to Free Summer Theater in New York

Theater in New York City is not always affordable. But as temperatures climb, theaters across the city are moving outdoors and opening up their shows for free. There's something for everyone, whether you're looking for Shakespeare, family-friendly productions, experimental stuff or even improv. 

We've compiled the ultimate guide to the best free theater that New York City has to offer this summer. Read ahead to find out where to find some of our favorites!

Shakespeare in the Park

What is It: The first thing you think of when you hear "free summer theater in the city" is likely Shakespeare in the Park, the annual performance of Shakespeare works put on by the Public Theater in Central Park. Now in its 52nd year, this summer the Delacorte Theater is presenting Much Ado about Nothing through July 6 and King Lear from July 22 to August 17, with all shows at 8pm. Whether you're interested in a comedy full of typical Shakespearean passions and mistaken identities or the dignity and violent tragedies of a legendary king, this season has something for everyone.

How to Get Tickets: These highly desirable tickets are handed out via lottery. Either line up at the Delacorte's Free Line at 12pm the day of the show, or make an online account here and sign in before noon to be entered into the lottery. You can win up to two tickets two times for each of the shows.

More information can be found: here.

Hudson Warehouse

What is It: Billing itself as "the other Shakespeare in the Park," Hudson Warehouse is putting up its eleventh season of outdoor theater classics for you to enjoy. June gives us King John, July is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and August is The Winter's Tale. Presented Thursday through Sunday nights at 6:30pm in Riverside Park, Hudson Warehouse delivers a range of traditional favorites in a nontraditional setting, performing on the steps of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument without a stage in sight.

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be found: here.

Manhattan Shakespeare Project

What is It: Not to be outdone by the big boys, Manhattan's all-female Shakespeare company is presenting their own take on Romeo and Juliet. The innovative show is just 90 minutes long, performed by an all-female cast of six actresses and takes place in several different outdoor locations throughout the run: Summit Rock in Central Park, St Nicholas Park in Harlem, Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Morningside Park. 

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be found: here.

Inwood Shakespeare Festival

What is It: Despite the name, only one of the two shows Moose Hall Theatre Company is putting on this summer is a Shakespearean drama. June's production of The Tempest will be followed by Eugene Ionesco's absurdist classic Rhinoceros in July, performed Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm at the Inwood Hill Park Peninsula. This "season of sacrifice and will" is bound to be magical.

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be found: here.

Broadway in Bryant Park

What is It: This showcase of musicals from on and off-Broadway occurs every Thursday afternoon from July 10 to August 14 at 12:30pm in Bryant Park. Specifics of the performances will be announced shortly. (Note: Bryant Park also has Shakespeare!)

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be found: here.

The Lightning Thief

What is It: For anyone who enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians movie, Theatreworks USA is now presenting a theatrical adaptation of Rick Riordan's beloved YA book. This family-friendly tale about the children of Greek gods comes to life in the form of a musical performed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre from July 21 to August 22.

How to Get Tickets: A limited number of free tickets will be made available to individuals each show day at the theater on a first come, first served basis, one hour before the show starts. Reservations are only available for non-profit groups.

More information can be found: here.

SummerStage

What is It: The SummerStage Festival has been presenting outstanding artistic performances in outdoor locations across New York City since 1986. While much of the festival is focused on musical or dance performances, and some events require paid tickets, there are still several great free theater pieces to look out for. Check out Handball, an explosive play about gentrification in the city by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, in Marcus Garvey Park from July 29 to August 11 at 8pm, or if you're into more experimental work, the New York Neo-Futurists are putting on an outdoor, free performance of their ongoing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind in the East River Park from August 13 to 17.

How to Get Tickets: For most, simply show up. A few of the more popular musical performances require tickets purchased online.

More information can be found: on the SummerStage website for the festival as a whole, here for Handball and here for the Neo-Futurists piece.

Peoples Improv Theater

What is It: This one isn't summer-specific, but the PIT, an organization devoted to the development and performance of original comedy, has free performances in their Underground space every Monday night. The events start at 7pm and last through midnight (though they're broken up by hour so you can come see what you like), and range from "High School Drama Club & Night Shift" to "Magically Delicious & Barcelona ’92."

How to Get Tickets: Free tickets are available at the door.

More information can be found: here.

Piper Theatre

What is It: Piper Theatre Productions will celebrate its 14th season of free, outdoor summer theatre with a critically acclaimed musical and two world premieres presented at the Old Stone House & Washington Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The highlight of the season is the critically acclaimed musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, presented in New York for the first time since its Broadway debut. There are also two original productions: Mr. Splitfoot, a play about three American girls from western New York who started the spiritualist movement in the post-Civil War era, and The Buffalo Nickels Medicine Show, a vaudeville act by the popular Brooklyn based band Buffalo Nickels. There are performances at various times throughout July.

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be found: here.

Street Theater Company at Theater for a New City

What is It: EMERGENCY!!! An Operetta for the Street is a brand new musical premiering as part of Theater for a New City's 38th annual Street Theater tour. It's an outdoor musical comedy about a New York EMT worker on a workingman's grand tour of the world, who decides to tackle global problems the way he does emergencies of his NYC beat. The show plays in parks and other public spots across the five boroughs, with performance dates scattered across August and the first half of September. TNC's Street Theater is known for its large-scale staging and special effects, from trap doors to puppetry, so it will be exciting to see how they manage to pull this one off.

How to Get Tickets: None required. Just show up!

More information can be foundhere.

And More!

We'll keep you updated as more information on summer theater becomes available. Or you can just pick a New York City park of your choice, and chances are, someone is doing Shakespeare in it. See, for instance, As You Like It by New York Classical Theatre, going up in Central Park, Prospect Park and Battery Park, and Two Gentlemen of Verona and Cymbeline by Hip to Hip Theatre Company in parks across Queens. For now, we've got a jam-packed schedule of quality, affordable theater for you to enjoy. Let's get to it!

Want great tickets but hate paying fees? Check CHARGED.fm to find tickets for less and NO FEES!


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