The Arts

New York’s Shakespeare in the Park

May 17, 2016
NYC Shakespeare in the Park

Magic in the moonlight – Shakespeare in the Park. Photo: Public Theater

Summer in New York brings one of the city’s finest cultural delights – Shakespeare in the Park.  Every summer, two new stagings of Shakespeare’s plays (or occasionally other works) are presented in an amphitheater in the heart of Central Park…completely free of charge!  Gathering with 1900 people to savor great theater under a canopy of stars is a magical experience.

Shakespeare in the Park is produced by The Public Theater, the renowned company that has produced theater in NYC for almost 60 years. Performances in Central Park began in the 1950s when Joseph Papp (the producer-director who founded the company) staged free Shakespeare on the lawn in front of nearby Turtle Pond. In 1961 the open-air Delacorte Theater was built to house the performances. Since its 1962 inaugural season, more than five million people have enjoyed the company’s free, high-quality productions.

Al Pacino, Merchant of Venice

Al Pacino as Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. Photo: Public Theater

Acclaimed theater artists create the productions, and their casts include up-and-coming actors beside theater and Hollywood stars.  Previous seasons have starred James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Natalie Portman, Denzel Washington, Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow, some of whom got their start with the company.  Many productions have gone on to successful runs on Broadway.

This season will open with a new production of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, May 23 – June 18, 2017. The play is focused on politics, power, and intrigue (timely subjects, given our nation’s current political climate) and has not been on the roster in the Park for 17 years.

The second production is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 11 – August 13, 2017. In this delightful romp, harried lovers and boorish thespians clash with the fairy kingdom one night in an enchanted forest. 

Performances are at 8pm. Performance days vary from week to week, so check the theater’s calendar.

The Delacorte Theater in located just south of Central Park’s Great Lawn.  Enter the park at West 81st Street or East 79th Street.

Into the Woods, NYC Shakespeare in the Park

Enchanted Evening – Into the Woods. Photo: Joan Marcus via Public Theater.

Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park

Tickets are free of charge and distributed as follows:

The line in Central Park – the official ticket line begins outside the Delacorte Theater.  Tickets are distributed at 12pm on the day of performance, and each person in line can receive two tickets.  Tickets are subject to availability, and the number of available seats varies per performance. As mentioned above, performance days change from week to week, so be sure to check the performance calendar before heading to the park.

Line for Shakespeare in the Park

Long line for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. Photo: Wikipedia

Public Theatre staff monitors the line, and there are strict policies to ensure order and fairness.  NOTE: for hot tickets (particularly weekends and the end of a run) lines form early and tickets go quickly. However, bear in mind Central Park does not open until 6:00AM.

There are separate lines for Senior Accessibility for senior citizens (65+) and patrons with disabilities.

Mobile Ticket Lottery –  Tickets will also be distributed by random mobile lottery on the TodayTix app. You can enter the lottery between 12:00AM and 12:00PM (noon) on the day of each public performance and each winner will get two tickets to that night’s performance. You will be notified if you’ve won between noon and 2:15pm and you must confirm your winning tickets in the TodayTix app within 45 minutes of being notified. Winners may begin to pick up their tickets at 5:00 pm at the Delacorte Theater Box Office. Tickets that are not claimed by 7:30pm will be forfeited to the standby line.

Two Gentlemen of Verona musical, Shakespeare in the Park

A delightful revival of the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo: Public Theater, Facebook

Lottery at Astor Place – a limited number of vouchers for the evening’s performance will be distributed by an in-person lottery at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place.

Sign-up for the lottery begins in the lobby of The Public at 11:30AM. The lottery will be drawn at 12:00PM.

Each person selected is allowed two vouchers.  The vouchers must be redeemed for tickets between 5:00PM and 7:30PM at the Delacorte Theater Box Office under the name and address used for registration. Tickets not picked up by 7:30PM will be released to the stand-by line. Vouchers are only valid for performances on the day they are issued.

NYC Borough Distribution – On specific dates, a limited number of vouchers for that night’s performance will be distributed at a location in one of New York’s five boroughs to make it easier for all New Yorkers to enjoy Free Shakespeare in the Park.

Ticket vouchers will be distributed between 12:00pm (noon) and 2:00pm, while supplies last. Each person in line is allowed two vouchers, and each voucher is good for one ticket. Vouchers must be exchanged for tickets at the Delacorte Theater Box Office between 5:00pm and 7:30pm. Vouchers are only valid until 7:30pm for performances on the day they are issued. Check here for distribution sites, dates and times.

NOTE: Excepting Senior accessible and ADA accessible seating, specific seating locations and reservations are not available.

Donations – reserved tickets are available to those making a financial donation to the Public Theatre.  See here or details.

The theater has a snack bar, serving quality hot dogs, salads, snacks and beverages including beer and wine. The snack bar is open before the performance and during intermission.

Shakespeare in the Park, NYC

Curtain call for the jovial Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Public Theater, via Facebook.

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  • Reply Dan at Budget Jetsetter July 10, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    This is great. I didn’t know about the app option. I live right outside NYC and this will work perfectly as the last thing I would want to do is head in to the city early and take a gamble at getting tickets.

    • Reply Jeff Dobbins July 11, 2016 at 8:36 am

      Thanks, Dan. Shakespeare in the Park is one of my favorite NYC experiences and I’m really looking forward to “Troilus and Cressida.” Let me know if the online lottery works for you and, if so, what you thought of the show.

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