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5 Plays to See Outside in NYC—and 3 Are Free!

Date: Jun 18, 2021

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

Outdoor theatre has long been a rite of summer in New York City. But since all shows, indoors and out, were canceled last year, open-air productions feel even more essential this season. While pop-up performances abound these days, most tend to be quick concerts or short plays. If you're craving a full-length evening at the theatre but are still wary of sitting inside, here are five alfresco productions to see—three of which are FREE.


Seven Deadly Sins

Wednesday, June 23 to Sunday, July 25. Click here for the complete schedule. Tickets start at $65.

Three blocks in the Meatpacking District starting at 94 Gansevoort Street. Seating is provided.

A sexy, socially distanced smash in Miami last year, Seven Deadly Sins is being reinvented in New York City courtesy of Tony-nominated director Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project. The concept remains the same: Seven dramatists explore our darkest impulses in a series of 10-minute playlets performed in storefronts, with the actors ensconced behind glass and audiences on the street listening to the dialogue via headphones. For this edition, MJ Kaufman, Moisés Kaufman, Ming Peiffer, Jeffrey LaHoste, Ngozi Anyanwu, Thomas Bradshaw and Bess Wohl take on pride, greed, wrath, envy, gluttony, sloth and lust, respectively. The cast includes Broadway vets Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Brandon J. Ellis, Morgan McGhee, Caitlin O'Connell and Eric Ulloa, plus nationally ranked pole dancer Donna Carnow and Shuga Cain from RuPaul's Drag Race. Be warned: The evening features nudity, profanity and simulated sex—so it's heaven or hell, depending on your perspective.

Health and safety protocols: Mandatory health questionnaire and COVID waiver must be completed in advance. Masks required. Headphones will be individually sanitized and include disposable, single-use ear covers.

How to get tickets: Tickets are available through TodayTix.


New York Classical Theatre: King Lear

Thursday, June 24 to Sunday, August 8 at 7 p.m. nightly except Mondays. FREE

Multiple locations, including Central Park, Brooklyn Commons at MetroTech, Carl Schurz Park and The Battery. Click here for exact dates and locations. Bring your own beach chairs or blankets as no seating is provided.

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. The troupe's As You Like It was my daughter's first experience with Shakespeare at age 8 and we still talk about the breathtaking quadruple wedding at the end, which took place against the backdrop of New York Harbor. This summer, the company is presenting Shakespeare's King Lear... but with a happy ending! Yes, you read that correctly. The theatre is using elements from Nahum Tate's 1681 adaptation of the Bard's play, which was performed almost exclusively in England until 1838 and does not end in abject tragedy. After the last 16 months, that's a relief!

Health and safety protocols: Limits on attendance, social distancing, mandatory masks and digital programs.

How to get tickets: Reserve your free tickets online in advance though walk-up attendees are welcome if there's adequate space.


The Classical Theatre of Harlem: Seize the King

Tuesday, July 6 to Thursday, July 29 at 8:30 p.m. nightly except Mondays. FREE

Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, enter at 124th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem

One of NYC's most celebrated Black companies, The Classical Theatre of Harlem has been mounting inventive takes on old favorites since 1999. The troupe's free alfresco summer shows are always infused with contemporary humor as well as cultural music and dance, like its evocative Caribbean-set Tempest and its chilling Macbeth in Ethiopia. This season's offering is Seize the King, Will Power's modern-day reimagining of Shakespeare's Richard III written in iambic pentameter but with colorful colloquial language. The troupe's associate artistic director, Carl Cofield, helms the production, which stars Ro Boddie as the ruthless Richard, Broadway vet Carson Elrod as Buckingham, and RJ Foster, Andrea Patterson and Alisha Espinosa in multiple roles. Bonus: On Friday nights, come at 7 p.m. to hear the swinging sounds of Jazzmobile before the show.

Health and safety protocols: Health questionnaire asking proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within three days of the performance. Mandatory masking, digital programs, distanced seating and sanitizing stations.

How to get tickets: To attend July 6 to 9, you must reserve free tickets online in advance. However, from July 10 to 29, you can just show up at the venue, though seating is first come, first served. The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater has benches, not chairs, so it's easier to socially distance.


Bated Breath Theatre Company: Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec

Fridays and Saturdays July 2 to 31 at various times starting at 6 p.m. Click here for the complete schedule. Tickets start at $69.

Half-mile-long walk starting at The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Note: You're on your feet the entire time.

Talk about pandemic pioneers! Last fall, when NYC was pretty much bereft of in-person performances, immersive theatre company Bated Breath transformed its long-running indoor hit about 19th-century painter Toulouse-Lautrec into a promenade production, which unfolds in a series of (mostly) outdoor vignettes. A guide and a violinist take an intimate audience of eight on a tour of 1899 Paris, aka modern-day Greenwich Village, magically merging the decadent bohemian nightlife of both cities and eras. In one of the most brilliant moments, a gorgeous woman performs a sensual striptease in a storefront window, but she only removes her mask, teasing onlookers with her mouth, a part of the body that's become verboten. Other scenes feature Toulouse-Lautrec's mother sporting a parasol and hoop skirt as she gives birth to the artist via shadow puppetry; a trio of cancan dancers kicking up their heels in windows; and a tall ghostly man who hands out electric candles and leads audiences indoors for the show's finale. I attended last October with my teen and we found it to be a dazzling and dizzying experience.

Health and safety protocols: Masks and social distancing are mandatory. COVID waiver must be signed.

How to get tickets: Tickets are available online.


The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park: Merry Wives

Tuesday, July 6 to Saturday, September 18. Click here for the complete schedule. FREE

Delacorte Theater in Central Park, enter at 81st Street and Central Park West

This annual favorite returns with Merry Wives, Jocelyn Bioh's exuberant one-act adaptation of the Bard's comedy Merry Wives of Windsor. Set in Harlem with ladies' man Falstaff wooing two married West African immigrants, the production will be helmed by The Public Theater's recently appointed associate artistic director Saheem Ali and aims to center Black joy. The all-Black cast includes Broadway vet Jacob Ming-Trent as Falstaff, Gbenga Akinnagbe from To Kill a Mockingbird, Eclipsed Tony nominee Pascale Armand and Fairview's MaYaa Boateng.

Health and safety protocols: The theatre will welcome 1468 people in both full capacity and physically distanced sections. Full capacity sections are recommended for those who are vaccinated, and the physically distanced sections are recommended for those who are not. All theatregoers will be required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

How to get tickets: No more standing in line for hours! Free ticket distribution will take place via advance digital lottery on Goldstar. Starting June 29, enter the lottery through the Goldstar app on Apple, Android or the website each Tuesday and Friday, one week prior to the next week's scheduled performances. Don't win the lottery? You can also vie for day-of standby tickets. There are two ways to snag them: via text from noon to 6 p.m. on the day of the performance desired, or you can join an in-person line in the park beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Public's site has all the details. Note that you need to register for a free Public Theater ID to get tickets.


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: A scene from Bated Breath Theatre Company's Voyeur. Photo by Hunter Canning.