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3 Free Outdoor Theatre Festivals to Check Out This Month in NYC

Date: May 13, 2021

Make your return to in-person performances with these eclectic alfresco offerings starting this weekend


Broadway's coming back this fall but you don't need to wait until September to see a show—Off-Off Broadway's already up and running! If you're not quite ready to sit inside a theatre, we have good news: three Off-Off outdoor festivals kick off this weekend, so you can get your cool culture and fresh air fix simultaneously. Even better: all of the offerings are free.

Art in Odd Places 2021: NORMAL

Friday, May 14 to Sunday, May 16 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. Free

14th Street between the Hudson and East Rivers as well as additional downtown Manhattan sites

Inspired by the twin crises of COVID-19 and racism, the 16th annual edition of this multidisciplinary arts festival is titled NORMAL, as in we're living in a new one. From May 14 to 16, you can check out more than 60 projects exploring the myth of the American Dream and inequality in our society. The works run the gamut from interactive installations to walking art to performance art to the uncategorizable. Try spray-painting a human canvas, or watching Trump rant about the Obama Portrait, or following Tim Cusack as he reimagines Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric" from a modern perspective, or seeing Kesha Lagniappe wash her clothes by hand, or some other offbeat experience. Find the complete schedule on Art in Odd Places' website or just cruise 14th Street between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. ET to see what's happening.


Downtown Live

Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16; Saturday May 22 and Sunday, May 23 at various times. Free but reservations required.

Three downtown Manhattan locations: 85 Broad Street, 4 New York Plaza and One Battery Park Plaza

Two indie theatre incubators, En Garde Arts and The Tank, partner with The Alliance for Downtown New York for two weekends of cutting-edge outdoor performances. Although all the offerings are free, reservations are required for each event and, as you can see from the calendar, many are already sold out. But there are still some promising pieces available, like Remembrance by the late Kathleen Collins starring Eisa Davis and Kaneza Schaal; a concert by 36 Questions songwriter Ellen Winter; and Metanóia, a meditation on identity by Group.BR, NYC's only Brazilian theatre company. Check out the full schedule and make reservations ASAP.



Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16; Saturday May 22 and Sunday, May 23 at various times. Free but reservations required.

Various locations in Manhattan

AFROFEMONONOMY is a collective of more than a dozen fabulous Black women theatre artists, including Lincoln Center Theater resident director Lileana Blain-Cruz, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Eisa Davis and Obie-winning actor April Matthis. Throughout May, the group is mounting WORK THE ROOT, a series of events exploring themes of healing and care guided by the work of the late Black playwright and poet Kathleen Collins. The weekends of May 15-16 and 22-23, you can see three of Collins' unproduced one-acts at different outdoor locations. The Reading will be performed in the Courtyard at 122CC, the building that houses Performance Space New York on 9th Street and First Avenue; Begin the Beguine will be done on the front lawn of El Barrio's Artspace PS 109 at 215 East 99th Street on Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16 at 2 p.m. ET only; and Remembrance, which is also part of Downtown Live, will be mounted at 85 Broad Street. In addition, Blain-Cruz's Last night, I dreamt I danced in the image of God, a space for dance, rest and edification in celebration of Black women, will take place in the Courtyard at 122CC. Reservations are required for all of these free experiences but donations to the Black Women's Health Imperative are encouraged. Follow AFROFEMONONOMY on Instagram to hear about what these talented women are planning next.


BONUS: En Garde Arts: A Dozen Dreams

Thursday, May 13 to Sunday, May 30: Wednesday to Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. ET, and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. ET. Free but timed tickets required.

Brookfield Place, 230 Vesey Street

So technically, this immersive installation is indoors. But if you've ever been to the cavernous, skylighted Brookfield Place, you know it practically feels like you're outside. Site-specific theatre company En Garde Arts is behind A Dozen Dreams, which features 12 stories of hope and resilience penned by a dozen diverse women playwrights, including Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok, Tony nominee Emily Mann, Obie winner Lucy Thurber, Caridad Svich, Erika Dickerson-Despenza and Liza Jessie Peterson. There are no live actors; instead, socially distanced audiences navigate a series of rooms where each tale unfolds via evocative set, lighting, sound and projection design. The experience is open from May 13 to 30, Wednesday to Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. ET, and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. ET. Timed tickets are free but required. It's already sold out this weekend but there are slots available starting next week.


For more free outdoor offerings, read our article about scoring no-cost tickets to Lincoln Center: Restart Stages performances.

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

Top image: Luiza Kurzyna's Kiss My Face, part of Art in Odd Places 2018. Photo by Alex Buly.