Free Shakespeare in Central Park, offered each summer, is one of the most highly anticipated and well-attended events in the city.
The open-air Delacorte Theatre, a Central Park landmark and the theater’s summer home, can be found near the west side of the park’s 81st Street entrance. As the name suggests, the performances are totally free; you just need to spend some time waiting in line for your free ticket.
Like many events in New York City, the event leading up to the event can be a show in and of itself. Lines begin soon after 6 A.M., when Central Park opens, even though tickets aren’t available until noon. Tickets are only valid for that day’s performance, so lines begin at the box office and stretch along the adjoining pathway for what seems like miles. Word has it that you can hire someone on Craigslist to sit there and wait for you. And never fear, separate lines are available for seniors and for those with disabilities.
We love to see the various preparations theatergoers make for their long wait. This can mean anything from bringing a sleeping bag to posting up with a lawn chair and a good book, to even preparing an elaborate candlelit dinner with wine and flowers. Buskers can often be seen strolling along the line in search of tips.
Legendary New York Public Theatre founder, Joseph Papp, established the annual series in 1954. It began modestly as a few short workshops and morphed into free productions on the city’s Lower East Side. Soon after, the productions were staged on a lawn in front of Central Park’s Turtle Pond. In 1961, after a legal battle with the New York over damages to pond grass, the city caved and built the company an amphitheater near Shakespeare Garden in Central Park. The Delacorte has been home to the free theater series ever since.
Productions regularly feature both Hollywood actors and New York theater veterans. Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are only a few of the stars that have displayed their talents in the productions. Shakespeare in the Park has also been the seed for some Broadway transfers, like with “The Pirates of Penzance” – starring Kevin Kline – and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” – starring Betty Buckley.
Whether you’re visiting this summer or you live in NYC already, put free Shakespeare in Central Park high on your list. You may see NYTG in line, because we know a good deal when we see it.
- central park
- delacorte theatre
- Lower East Side
- new york public theatre
- turtle pond