12 Outdoor Shows & Performance Festivals in NYC This Summer, Most Are Free!
By RAVEN SNOOK
Friday, May 27, 2022  •  
Fri May 27, 2022  •  
Off-Off Broadway  •   0 comments Share This

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

Outdoor theatre has long been a rite of summer in New York City, but open-air productions feel even more essential this season. For the first time since 2019, The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park is presenting two productions: a fresh take on Richard III starring Danai Gurira and a remounting of Shaina Taub's musicalization of As You Like It. Plus there's Classical Theatre of Harlem's Afrofuturistic Twelfth Night, Lincoln Center's three-month Summer for the City festival, the eclectic River to River Festival and more. Best of all, most of our picks are FREE.

As for COVID-19 protocols, for outdoor events proof of vaccination and masks are NOT required unless otherwise indicated.

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Lincoln Center's Summer for the City - May 14

Saturday, May 14-Sunday, August 14. Many events are FREE.

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

For three 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 the brand-new, disco-ball adorned, outdoor dance floor The Oasis on Josie Robertson Plaza. FREE highlights include a concert by the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra (June 1); Caleb Teicher's SW!NG OUT dance party (June 4); comedy by Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang (June 18) and The Daily Show's John Hodgman (June 29); a Juneteenth Family Celebration (June 18)—and that's just June! It's worth perusing the entire schedule to see what piques your interest. Note that the offerings that do cost money are usually indoors.

How to get tickets: Most outdoor events are first-come, first-served general admission. However, some allow you to make advance reservations online starting at noon on Monday the week of the performance. Check individual listings for instructions.

Health and safety protocols: Proof of vaccination and masks are only required for indoor events.

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En Garde Arts: Downtown Stories - June 8

Wednesday, June 8-Saturday, June 25 at various times. FREE to $20. Click here for the complete schedule.

Multiple downtown Manhattan locations: John Street Methodist Church, Bowling Green Park and Zuccotti Park.

Innovative immersive theatre company En Garde Arts presents Downtown Stories, a trio of theatrical adventures exploring Lower Manhattan. Inspired by interviews with local ma-and-pa business owners, Rogelio Martinez's Sidewalk Echoes takes place indoors at John Street Methodist Church. But two outdoor fictional walking tours invite you to experience the area in a fantastical new way. Mona Mansour and Jessica Holt's Uncovering Downtown: A Magical Expedition of Unrecorded Dreams follows a Hamilton tour guide whose usual route is disrupted by an unexpected fork in the road. In Eric Lockley's We the People (Not the Bots), a time traveler from the future is desperate to hear stories of New York resilience. Learn little-known facts about the city's oldest neighborhood while seeing familiar streets through fresh eyes.

How to get tickets: Reserve your tickets online in advance. Sidewalk Echoes is FREE; tickets for Uncovering Downtown and We the People (Not the Bots) are $20 and include a $20 voucher to a local restaurant valid through June 30.

Health and safety protocols: Proof of vaccination required for all performances. Masks are only required for Sidewalk Echoes because it's indoors.

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Little Island @Pier55 - June 8

Wednesday, June 8-Friday, September 30. Many events are FREE.

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

After a triumphant inaugural season last year, Little Island's alfresco arts programming returns for a second summer. Starting on June 8, this pier-turned-public park will host a wide variety of performances in its 687-seat amphitheater, intimate side stage and on its ample lawns. The event calendar let's you filter by no-cost drop-in events, which include weekly comedy, spoken word, drag, family and music performances. Ticketed shows such as Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (August 19-21), Machine de Cirque: Robot Infidèles (August 26-28), The Moth Mainstage (September 9-10) and Tony nominee Tina Landau's holiday-themed Big Mix performance parties (June 16-July 3) cost $25-$45. If you're a TDF member, log in to your account to purchase discount tickets to Little Island events.

How to get tickets: Ticketed events are listed here and include admission to Little Island at the time of the performance. Note that you need to reserve a free timed entry ticket to access Little Island Thursday through Sunday from noon until closing, so keep that in mind if you're attending a free drop-in event during those times.

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River to River Festival - June 12

Sunday, June 12-Sunday, June 26. FREE

Multiple locations throughout downtown Manhattan. Click here for a complete schedule of events.

For more than two decades, the eclectic River to River Festival has presented cutting-edge dance and music performances, art installations and experimental films, participatory processions and family events throughout Lower Manhattan. Some events are indoors, others are outside and all are free, though some require advance registration due to space constraints. The must-see outdoor event is the opening puppet parade (June 12) but it's worth browsing the entire lineup to see what intrigues you.

How to get tickets: Starting Wednesday, June 1, you can RSVP to events with limited capacity on the website.

Health and safety protocols: Masks are required.

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New York Classical Theatre: Cymbeline - June 14

Tuesday, June 14-Sunday, July 10 at 7 p.m. nightly except Mondays. FREE

Multiple locations: Central Park on the Upper West Side, Brooklyn Commons at MetroTech and Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side. 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. This summer's offering is Shakespeare's underperformed 1611 play Cymbeline, described as a tragedy, romance or comedy depending on whom you ask! Seven versatile actors bring this tale of a haughty king, his faithful daughter and her distrustful husband to life. There's cross-dressing, long-lost relatives and a Romeo and Juliet-style climax that turns out to be a lot less deadly.

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

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Shakespeare Downtown: Saint Joan - June 16

Thursday, June 16-Sunday, June 26 nightly at 6:30 p.m. except Mondays-Wednesdays. FREE

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 Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw's erudite examination of the trial and execution of French military icon and religious martyr Joan of Arc. This tragic 15th-century tale should feel even more powerful in this historic 19th-century space.

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

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Pan Pan Theatre: Cascando - June 21

Tuesday, June 21-Sunday, July 3. $35

Starts at NYU Skirball, 566 LaGuardia Place between West 3rd and 4th Streets and then winds its way through Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village.

Dublin's Pan Pan Theatre presents a promenade performance of Samuel Beckett's radio play Cascando, with audiences joining a procession of mysterious, black-cloaked, hooded figures wandering through Greenwich Village as the audio is piped in through headphones. Directed by Gavin Quinn and featuring the voices of Irish actors Andrew Bennett and Daniel Reardon ruminating on the limitations of language, the experience juxtaposes the power of words against the majesty of music. A one-of-a-kind participatory performance for just 18 individuals at a time.

How to get tickets: Tickets are $35 and must be purchased in advance.

Health and safety protocols: Proof of full vaccination and a booster shot are required. Masks are also mandatory.

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The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park: Richard III - June 21

Tuesday, June 21-Sunday, July 17 at 8 p.m. nightly except Mondays. FREE

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

Tony-nominated director Robert O'Hara (Slave Play) is known for his radical makeovers of classics and his take on Richard III is sure to be revelatory. Walking Dead star Danai Gurira plays the power-hungry and ruthless title villain, who's determined to be king at all costs. The diverse ensemble includes Oklahoma! Tony winner Ali Stroker as Richard's conquest Anne, Heather Alicia Simms as Queen Elizabeth who stands in his way, Tina Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts, Gregg Mozgala (a formidable Richard himself) and Broadway regular Michael Potts.

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; 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. Additional details are on The Public's website. Note that a Public Theater Patron ID is required to receive FREE tickets, so be sure to register for one in advance.

Health and safety protocols: Proof of full vaccination and a booster shot are required, masks are optional.

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The Classical Theatre of Harlem: Twelfth Night - July 5

Tuesday, July 5-Friday, 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 movement, like its evocative Caribbean-set Tempest and its chilling Macbeth in Ethiopia. This season's offering is a 90-minute, Afrofuturistic take on Shakespeare's magical romantic comedy Twelfth Night, with twins Viola and Sebastian torn apart by a shipwreck only to find true love in Illyria... after lots of cross-dressing complications of course. As usual with CTH's summer shows, the company's associate artistic director Carl Cofield is at the helm, serving up a diverse, dance-filled, crowd-pleasing romp. Clyde's Tony nominee Kara Young, Carson Elrod, Christina Sajous, J'Laney Allen and William DeMeritt lead the cast.

How to get tickets: You can reserve your free tickets online in advance though frankly, no one ever checks. Walk-ins are welcome. Though seating is first come, first served, the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater has benches, not chairs, so it's easy to social distance.

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Hip to Hip Theatre Company: Much Ado About Nothing and The Adventures of Pericles - July 27

Wednesday, July 27-Sunday, August 21. Schedule to be determined. FREE

Various locations in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, Jersey City and Southampton. Click here for a complete schedule. Bring your own beach chairs or blankets as no seating is provided.

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 performance 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 year the troupe will present his beloved romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing in rep with his rarely seen (and disputed) The Adventures of Pericles.

How to get tickets: Just show up!

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The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park: As You Like It - August 10

Wednesday, August 10-Sunday, September 11 at 8 p.m. nightly except Mondays. FREE

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

Originally seen in 2017 at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, Public Works' glorious musical adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It returns to charm again! With a streamlined script, enchanting songs by Shaina Taub and spirited direction by Laurie Woolery, the Bard's romantic comedy about the diverse denizens of the Forest of Arden becomes a participatory pageant, with professional actors performing alongside hundreds of community members from across the five boroughs. It's worth reading our article about the original production and and watching this lovely hour-long documentary to learn more about The Public Theater's invaluable Public Works program and how this show was put together. The professional cast has yet to be announced, but we hope Taub reprises her winning performance as philosophical clown Jacques.

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; 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. Additional details are on The Public's website. Note that a Public Theater Patron ID is required to receive FREE tickets, so be sure to register for one in advance.

Health and safety protocols: Proof of vaccination is required, masks are optional.

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Battery Dance Festival - August 13

Sunday, August 13-Friday, August 19 at 7 p.m. FREE

Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City. Click here for a map.

The programming is eclectic and plentiful at this annual favorite presented by Battery Dance, a company that focuses on forging international connections. Founded in 1982, Battery Dance Festival offers domestic dance-makers a chance to share the bill with troupes from around the world. The schedule for the 41st 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 US-based companies including Buglisi Dance Theatre, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dancing Wheels, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and Xing Dance alongside Canada's Compagnie Virginie Brunelle, Spain's Dos Proposiciones Dance Theatre, TeaTime Company from the Netherlands and Fairul Zahid & Lasalle Dance Singapore. The complete lineup will be available on Battery Dance's website in late July.

How to get tickets: Outdoor performances are first come, first served. Note that the fest's closing event on Saturday, August 20 takes place indoors at Pace University's Schimmel Center and requires advance tickets.

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

Top image: The Public Theater's 2017 Public Works production of Shaina Taub's musicalization of Twelfth Night, which will have a new mounting this summer at Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus.




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