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Free Outdoor Shows & Performance Festivals in NYC This Summer

By: Raven Snook
Date: May 24, 2024

Catch The Public Theater's Mobile Unit, The Classical Theatre of Harlem and other alfresco performances

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New York's outdoor theatre season has arrived! Sadly, there's no Shakespeare in the Park this summer because The Public Theater is doing a massive renovation of the Delacorte Theater. But there are plenty of other alfresco offerings to enjoy. From The Classical Theatre of Harlem to the Battery Dance Festival, 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.

For even more outdoor performances, check out our Show Finder listings.

Although most of these productions do not require tickets, before heading to a show, check the official website to make sure it's not canceled due to inclement weather or illness.

Lower East Side Festival of the Arts - May 24

Friday, May 24-Sunday, May 26. FREE - no tickets required.

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

The venerable Theater for the New City hosts its 29th annual arts fest, which takes place inside the 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 Penny Arcade, Zero Boy and Austin Pendleton, as well as Chinese Theatre Works, the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater, New Yiddish Rep, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers and National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

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The Public Mobile Unit: The Comedy of Errors - May 28

Tuesday, May 28-Sunday, June 30. FREE - no tickets required but you can register to receive location details and weather policy.

Various locations in all five boroughs. See the complete schedule. Limited chair seating is available at all locations but is first come, first served.

The Public Theater's Mobile Unit, which presents one-act adaptations of Shakespeare at locations throughout NYC, remounts last summer's delightful Comedy of Errors. Conceived by director Rebecca Martínez and composer Julián Mesri, this bilingual take on the Bard's romp of mistaken identity is a music-and-mirth-filled joy, with two sets of twins separated at birth finding love and long-lost family. Don't worry if you don't speak Spanish—the laughs are plentiful in both languages.

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Barefoot Shakespeare Company: The Winter's Tale - May 30

Thursday, May 30-Sunday, June 9. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Summit Rock in Central Park, enter at Central Park West on 81st or 85th Street on the Upper West Side. Bench seating is limited so bring your own chairs or blankets.

Barefoot Shakespeare Company marks its 11th season of free theatre in Central Park with Shakespeare's genre-shifting comedy-tragedy-romance, about an insanely jealous king, a pair of determined young lovers, an oracle, a magical statue and a character-chasing bear. If you've never seen this problem play, it's weird but also wonderful and ultimately quite moving.

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Hudson Classical Theater Company: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) - May 30

Thursday, May 30-Sunday, June 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.

Hudson Classical Theater Company kicks off its 21st season with this beloved comedy, with snippets from all the Bard's plays performed by three actors changing costumes and characters at lightning speed. Expect slapstick and silliness in this survey of Shakespeare.

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Little Island - June 1

Saturday, June 1-Sunday, September 22. Events at The Amph are $25; performances at The Glade 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

Little Island's arts programming has been completely overhauled this summer. The 687-seat Amph has reopened and is hosting longer running events, not the one-offs of the past, including dance premieres from Pam Tanowitz (July 17-21) and Twyla Tharp (June 1-23); a radical reinvention of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro (August 30-September 22) with Anthony Roth Costanzo playing every leading role; and Qween Jean's celebration of ballroom culture The Summer Legacy Ball. All Amph performances require $25 tickets, but the performances in The Glade are 100% FREE and first come, first served. Highlights include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks hosting music and conversations (July 10-14); cabaret from trans icon Justin Vivian Bond and friends (July 24-28); and jazz from Grammy-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant (August 21-25). Click here to browse the entire calendar.

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Smith Street Stage: Love's Labor's Lost - June 5

Wednesday, June 5-Sunday, June 23. 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 folding chairs.

This actor-led troupe has been presenting free shows in Brooklyn's Carroll Park since 2010. This summer's frolic is an amusing, 21st-century take on one of the Bard's lesser-done comedies, as four pals promise to abstain from sex and stick to their studies. But that vow won't last long in the face of temptation in this Love Island meets The Bachelor-style mash-up. Prepare for hookups, breakups, ribald poetry and guilty pleasures.

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New York Classical Theatre: Henry IV - June 11

Tuesday, June 11-Sunday, July 14. FREE - no tickets required though you can make a reservation if you want to be informed about weather-related cancelations. Post-show donations are encouraged.

Multiple locations: Central Park on the Upper West Side June 11-30; Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side July 2-7; Castle Clinton in The Battery (July 9-14). Bring your own chairs or blankets.

Since 2000, New York Classical Theatre has been presenting environmental stagings of vintage plays for free in Manhattan parks. Audiences literally follow the action as the performers move through the green spaces. This summer's offering is a two-hour conflation of Parts 1 and 2 of Henry IV, chronicling the reign of King Henry IV of England as well as his wayward son's friendship with the boisterous knight Falstaff.

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Lincoln Center's Summer for the City - June 12

Wednesday, June 12-Saturday, August 10. Most outdoor events are FREE with first-come, first-served general admission; you can also to make free fast track reservations online, which give you priority. Check individual listings for instructions. Indoor events are pay-what-you-wish.

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. FREE outdoor highlights include Joe McGinty & The Loser's Lounge (June 20); Broadway vet Mykal Kilgore in concert (June 22); Big Umbrella Day (July 6), a festival for neurodiverse audiences; Close-Act Theatre's eye-popping Birdmen (July 6-7); La Casita (July 21), an annual festival of traditional and contemporary music and spoken word performance; the BAAND Together Dance Festival (July 30-August 3), with performances (not all free) and workshops by Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem; and a concert by Mexican musical theatre composer Jaime Lozano & The Familia (July 31). 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.

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Shakespeare Downtown: Macbeth - June 13

Thursday, June 13-Sunday, June 23. FREE but tickets required and distributed first come, first served starting 30 minutes before showtime.

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

Since 2016, Shakespeare Downtown has been presenting classic plays 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 Macbeth co-directed by Geoffrey Horne and Alec Baldwin (yup, that Alec Baldwin). The Bard's bloody tragedy about the ultimate aspirational couple is filled with witches, murder and ghosts. But nothing will stop Macbeth and his lady from trying to get the crown.

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Boomerang Theatre Company: Romeo and Juliet - June 22

Saturday, June 22-Friday, July 14. FREE but making advance reservations encouraged.

The lawn just inside 69th Street and Central Park West. Bring your own chairs or blankets.

For its 25th anniversary season, this scrappy theatre troupe presents an emotionally charged mounting of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy about star-crossed teenage lovers who get some really bad adult advice.

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Hudson Classical Theater Company: Coriolanus - June 29

Thursday, June 27-Sunday, July 21. 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 the second production of its three-show season, Hudson Classical Theater Company tackles the rarely produced Coriolanus, Shakespeare's tragedy about the Roman general-turned-politician, who's brought down by his principled bluntness, corrupt colleagues and an easily manipulated populace.

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The Classical Theatre of Harlem: A Midsummer Night's Dream - July 6

Saturday, July 6-Sunday, July 28. FREE - no tickets required but you can register via EventBrite if you want to be informed about weather-related cancelations. 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. This summer, internationally renowned stand-up Russell Peters stars as Nick Bottom in the troupe's Harlem Renaissance reimagining of Shakespeare's beloved romantic comedy about young lovers and mischievous fairies crossing paths in the woods. Carl Cofield, who helmed the company's acclaimed productions of Twelfth Night and Macbeth, directs this seasonal favorite, which is streamlined to one act and features lots of music, dance and merriment.

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Hudson Classical Theater Company: Twelfth Night - July 25

Thursday, July 25-Sunday, August 18. 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 season with Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's sparkling comedy about the romantic complications that ensue after fraternal twins are separated during a shipwreck.

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Hip to Hip Theatre Company: The Winter's Tale and A Midsummer Night's Dream - August 7

Wednesday, August 7-Saturday, August 24. FREE - no tickets required but post-show donations are encouraged.

Various parks in Queens, Jersey City and Southampton. See the complete schedule. Bring your own blankets or chairs.

Since 2007, the Hip to Hip Theatre Company has been touring professional outdoor mountings of Shakespeare's plays to parks in Queens and beyond. With energetic actors, 90-minute running times and pre-show Kids & the Classics interactive workshops, Hip to Hip's no-cost productions are a great way to introduce children to the poetry of the Bard. This summer the troupe presents two Shakespeare comedies in rep: The Winter's Tale which, as one of his problem plays, is tonally challenging. A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its sprites, sorcery and silliness, is probably a better bet for youngsters.

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Battery Dance Festival - August 11

Sunday, August 11-Friday, August 17. 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, this festival offers domestic dance-makers a chance to share the bill with troupes from around the world. The schedule for the 43rd annual edition has not yet been finalized. But we do know that for seven nights in August, you'll be able to catch dazzling dancers against the dramatic backdrop of New York Harbor, including Buglisi Dance Theatre, Carolyn Dorfman Dance, FANIKE! African Dance Troupe, Sun Kim Dance, A’nó:wara Dance Theatre, Pori Dance Company, Rajesh Sai Babu Mayurbhanj Chhau Group and Rutkay Özpinar. The complete lineup will be available on Battery Dance's website in late July. Not going to be in town in August? The performances will also be live-streamed.

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Note: We didn't include Broadway in Bryant Park because the schedule hasn't been released yet. Once it's finalized, you'll find it here.

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TDF MEMBERS: Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

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