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Hamlet 700

15 Free Outdoor Shows & Performance Festivals in NYC This Summer

By: Raven Snook
Date: May 25, 2023

How to get tickets to The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, Classical Theatre of Harlem and other alfresco performances


New York's outdoor theatre season has arrived and Shakespeare in the Park's mounting of Hamlet is just one of many alfresco shows to enjoy this summer. From the Classical Theatre of Harlem uptown to Lincoln Center's two-month Summer for the City festival to the Bard staged downtown and in the outer boroughs, we've got the scoop on the best outdoor shows to see in NYC, and most of our picks are FREE.

Click the titles to view performance schedules. Although many of these productions do not require tickets, before heading to a show check its official website to make sure it's not canceled due to inclement weather or illness.

Lower East Side Festival of the Arts - May 26

Friday, May 26-Sunday, May 28. FREE - no tickets required.

In and around Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue at 10th Street in the East Village

Theater for the New City hosts this 28th annual arts fest, which takes place inside its multistage venue but also spills out onto 10th Street. More than 200 organizations and artists are scheduled to take part in this anything-goes shindig, including downtown icons Vinie Burrows, Penny Arcade, KT Sullivan and Austin Pendleton, as well as Chinese Theatre Works, Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater, New Yiddish Rep, Thunderbird American Indian Dancers and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir.


Barefoot Shakespeare Company: Titus Andronicus - June 1

Thursday, June 1-Sunday, June 11. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Summit Rock in Central Park, enter at 85th Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side. Bring your own chairs or blankets.

Barefoot Shakespeare Company marks its 11th season of free theatre in Central Park with the Bard's bloodiest tragedy, a play that's got a trigger warning for everyone. In this outrageous tale of revenge between Roman general Titus Andronicus and Tamora, queen of the Goths, there's violence, self-harm, torture, murder, rape, racism and cannibalism. Leave the kids at home!


Hudson Classical Theater Company: The Importance of Being Earnest - June 1

Thursday, June 1-Sunday, June 25. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Behind The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the North Patio at 89th Street and Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side. Cushions are provided.

Hudson Classical Theater Company kicks off its 20th anniversary season with a mounting of Oscar Wilde's effervescent comedy of amours, filled with mistaken identity, social satire and the hilariously haughty Lady Bracknell.


Smith Street Stage: As You Like It - June 7

Wednesday, June 7-Sunday, June 25. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Carroll Park, enter at Carroll and Smith Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Arrive at least a half hour early to snag one of the 100 folding chairs.

This actor-led troupe has been presenting free shows in Brooklyn's Carroll Park since 2010. This summer's frolic is a queer take on one of Shakespeare's most beloved romantic comedies, which is reset in modern-day NYC with outcasts connecting and canoodling in the inclusive outer borough community of Arden.


Little Island @Pier55 - June 7

Wednesday, June 7-Sunday, September 3. All events are FREE - no tickets required but entry is first come, first served.

Pier 55 in Hudson River Park between 13th and 14th Streets in the Meatpacking District

This pier-turned-public park hosts a wide variety of performances throughout the summer and, unlike years past, all events are FREE. However, there are some caveats. Little Island's largest performance space, the 700-seat Amph, is closed, which means events take place on its lawns and in The Glade. While you'll be able to drop into weekly offerings like art-making, storytelling and Friday teen nights, space is limited and we expect some performers to attract crowds. So arrive early if you want to catch sets by Tony winner Tonya Pinkins (June 14-15, 21-22); Broadway's Amber Iman (June 18 and July 2); Tina Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts (June 24); Saturday Night Live's James Austin Johnson (July 19); three-time Tony nominee Joshua Henry (August 5 and 12); Bad Cinderella's Grace McLean (July 23, August 20, September 3) and Suffs' singer-songwriter Shaina Taub (August 24). Click here to browse the entire calendar.


The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park: Hamlet - June 8

Thursday, June 8-Sunday, August 6. FREE but tickets are required.

Delacorte Theater in Central Park, enter at 81st Street and Central Park West, or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.

After his glorious mounting of Much Ado About Nothing, Tony winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, Ohio State Murders, A Soldier's Play) returns to Shakespeare in the Park to direct Hamlet. Billed as a post-COVID take on Shakespeare's emotional masterpiece, this mounting stars Slave Play Tony nominee Ato Blankson-Wood in the title role, a prince grappling with the murder of his father, the too-soon nuptials of his mother and uncle (Lorraine Toussaint and Tony nominee John Douglas Thompson), a fragile girlfriend (Solea Pfeiffer) and a ghost's call for vengeance. Because the Delacorte Theater is scheduled to undergo a massive renovation starting this fall, this is the sole Shakespeare in the Park production this summer.

How to get tickets: There are multiple ways to try to snag FREE tickets: in person at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park starting at noon every day when there is a performance (note there are three separate lines for the general public, seniors and individuals with disabilities); the in-person lottery at The Public Theater at noon every day when there is a performance; various in-person distribution sites in the outer boroughs for specific performances; a digital lottery via TodayTix; and an in-person standby line before each performance. All the details are on The Public's website. A Public Theater Patron ID is required to receive FREE tickets, so be sure to register for one in advance.


New York Classical Theatre: Richard III - June 13

Tuesday, June 13-Sunday, July 9. FREE - no tickets required though you can make a reservation to receive a program via email. Post-show donations are encouraged.

Multiple locations: Central Park on the Upper West Side June 13-25; Brooklyn Commons at MetroTech June 27-July 2; and Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side July 4-9. Bring your own chairs or blankets.

Since 2000, New York Classical Theatre has been presenting environmental stagings of vintage plays for free in Manhattan and Brooklyn parks. Audiences literally follow the action as the performers move through the green spaces. This summer's offering is an all-female, gender-fluid mounting of Shakespeare's Richard III. Delaney Feener, a performer with a disability, leads the cast of seven as the power-hungry and ruthless title villain, who's determined to be king at all costs.


Lincoln Center's Summer for the City - June 14

Wednesday, June 14-Sunday, August 12. Most events are FREE - no tickets required but you can make fast track reservations. 

Multiple locations, indoors and outside, on the Lincoln Center campus. Click here for a complete schedule of events.

For two months, Lincoln Center is presenting an exciting array of (mostly) no-cost concerts, performances, readings and interactive arts installations throughout its Upper West Side campus, including Damrosch Park's 2,500-seat amphitheater and the giant disco-ball adorned outdoor Dance Floor at Josie Robertson Plaza. Highlights include Planting Connections curated by celebrated choreographer Kyle Abraham (June 16-17); Las Culturistas Culture Awards with Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers (June 17); National Queer Theater's War and Play: A Clown Odyssey of Survival (June 21); Big Umbrella Day (July 1), a full day of activities for neurodivergent audiences; Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon's opera based on Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (July 14-15); and a jam-packed Korean Arts Week (July 19-22). But there are also family storytimes, silent discos, movie screenings, panels, jazz concerts and underground comedy. It's worth perusing the entire schedule to see what piques your interest. Note that the offerings that do cost money are usually indoors, but tickets are sold on a choose-what-you-pay basis starting at $5.

How to get tickets: Most outdoor events are first-come, first-served general admission. However, some allow you to make free fast track reservations online, which give you priority. Check individual listings for instructions.


Shakespeare Downtown: The Lady of the Camellias - June 15

Thursday, June 15-Sunday, June 25. FREE but tickets required.

Castle Clinton National Monument in The Battery. Click here for a map.

Since 2016, Shakespeare Downtown has been presenting classic plays (not all by the Bard) inside the Castle Clinton National Monument, a circular, roofless, sandstone fort in The Battery that has served many purposes over the past two centuries. This year's offering is The Lady of the Camellias, based on Alexandre Dumas fils' novel of the same name, which also inspired Verdi's La Traviata. This new adaptation combines parts of the book and the opera's libretto to tell the tragic love story between a consumptive courtesan and a young bourgeois, who convinces her to escape with him to the countryside. But when his father finds out, he vows to quash their scandalous romance.

How to get tickets: Free tickets are distributed first come, first served starting 30 minutes before showtime.


Hudson Classical Theater Company: The School for Scandal - June 29

Thursday, June 29-Sunday, July 23. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Behind The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the North Patio at 89th Street and Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side. Cushions are provided.

For its second production of its three-show 20th anniversary season, Hudson Classical Theater Company tackles Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th-century hilarious comedy of manners filled with crushes, gossip and intrigue. 


The Classical Theatre of Harlem: Malvolio - July 8

Saturday, July 8-Saturday, July 29. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, enter at 122nd Street and Mount Morris Park West in Harlem. Seating is first come, first served, but the theatre has benches, not chairs, so everyone can squeeze in.

One of NYC's most celebrated Black companies, The Classical Theatre of Harlem has been mounting inventive takes on old favorites since 1999. Last year, the troupe had a palpable hit with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. In a savvy spin on that success, the company is presenting a brand-new sequel to that romantic comedy by Betty Shamieh (Roar, The Strangest, the CTH produced Fit for a Queen). Titled Malvolio, this romp centers on that pompous, rude and much-abused Twelfth Night character after he leaves Olivia's employ and becomes a celebrated general during wartime. But he meets his match in Volina, a young woman cross-dressing as a man so she can join Malvolio's troops. CTH's Producing Artistic Director Ty Jones and Ian Belknap co-helm the production.


Hudson Classical Theater Company: Margaret: Shakespeare's Warrior Queen - July 27

Thursday, July 27-Sunday, August 20. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Behind The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the North Patio at 89th Street and Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side. Cushions are provided.

Hudson Classical Theater Company wraps up its 20th anniversary season with this mash-up of the Wars of the Roses (aka Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, and Richard III) focused on the evolution of Queen Margaret. The troupe's founder, Nicholas Martin-Smith, adapted the script and directs.


Hip to Hip Theatre Company: The Comedy of Errors and The Tragedy of Richard II - August 2

Wednesday, August 2-Saturday, August 26. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Various parks in Queens, Staten Island, Jersey City and Southampton. The schedule will be posted here in June. Bring your own blankets or chairs.

Since 2007, the Queens-based Hip to Hip Theatre Company has been touring professional outdoor mountings of Shakespeare's plays to parks throughout NYC and beyond. With portable sets, energetic actors and pre-show Kids & the Classics interactive workshops to engage young audiences, Hip to Hip's no-cost productions are a great way to introduce kids to the poetry of the Bard. This summer the troupe presents his rollicking Comedy of Errors in rep with The Tragedy of Richard II about the downfall of the embattled king.


Battery Dance Festival - August 12

Sunday, August 12-Friday, August 18. FREE - no tickets required

Rockefeller Park, enter at Murray Street and River Terrace in Battery Park City. Bring your own blankets or chairs.

The programming is eclectic and plentiful at this annual favorite presented by Battery Dance. Launched in 1982, the Battery Dance Festival offers domestic dance-makers a chance to share the bill with troupes from around the world. The schedule for the 42nd annual edition has not yet been finalized. However, during six nights in August against the dramatic backdrop of New York Harbor, you'll be able to catch local companies such as Carolyn Dorfman Dance, Fanike! African Dance Troupe, Nu-World Contemporary Danse Theatre and SOLE Defined alongside Poland's Teatrnowszy, Norway's Tabanka Dance Ensemble, India's Rudrakshya Foundation, Curaçao's Reuel Rogers and Canada's Citadel + Cie. The complete lineup will be available on Battery Dance's website in late July. Not going to be in town in August? All the performances will be live-streamed.


Top image: Ato Blankson-Wood in rehearsal for The Public's Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet, which begins performances June 8. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Raven Snook

Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.