Each summer, people far and wide descend on Central Park for a showing of Shakespeare in the Park. The showings are insanely popular, not only because they are Broadway level performances of Shakespeare plays, but because they’re free. If there is anything in the world that New Yorkers love, it is free things.
The whole idea of Shakespeare in the Park was started in 1954 by Joseph Papp, and it was known as the New York Shakespeare Festival. He started with Shakespeare workshops, and moved on to free productions held on the Lower East Side. The plays moved to a lawn in front of Turtle Pond in Central Park. Naturally, Robert Moses (former parks commissioner and namesake of 400,000 state parks, roadways, and playgrounds) demanded that a fee be charged for these productions to cover the cost of “grass erosion.” They all went to court (politics, man), and Moses gave up and apparently said, “let’s build the bastard a theater.”
That theater became The Delacorte Theater, an open-air amphitheater located near the 81st Street entrance in Central Park. With a backdrop featuring Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond, this is a beautiful place to see a show. The first show at the Delacorte was The Merchant of Venice, held back in 1962. Since its creation, the Delacorte has put on more than 100 plays and musicals. Stars like James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Patrick Stewart, and Anne Hathaway have starred in different productions.
Because The Public Theater relies on private donors, they are able to put on Shakespeare presentations completely for free. Free tickets to anything in New York City means that finding tickets can be a little bit of a challenge. So, how do you go about getting 1 of the 1,872 seats at the Delacorte? Shakespeare in the Park tickets are available in the following ways:
• Directly at the Delacorte: Want to be a true New Yorker? This means lining up for hours for something. Tickets are handed out in front of the Delacorte on a first-come, first-served basis at noon on the day of the performance. Most people arrive there way earlier than this. When I did a long run in Central Park on a Saturday, there were people camped out at 8:00 a.m.
• In the outer boroughs: From what I read, vouchers are available in the outer boroughs between noon and 2 p.m., and can be exchanged for tickets. I don’t know where they are handed out or how to get them, so consider this a last option.
• Online Lottery: For those who can’t wait in line, or (like me) really don’t want to sit outside for hours on end, there is an online lottery through the TodayTix app. You can enter each day for up to two tickets, and you get extra entries for sharing on Twitter and Facebook. If you win this method, you have until 7:30 to get your tickets at the theater.
• Last-Minute: Any tickets not picked up by 7:30 are thrown into a distribution pile and handed out to anyone standing in line.
I was lucky enough to win two tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was in this production (well, a lower budget version…) when I was a high school freshman, so I was excited that it was a play I already knew and understood.
One of the cool things about Shakespeare in the Park is that productions start before sunset, and as the sun goes down and the lights come on, you get a really awesome view.
Seeing free Shakespeare in the middle of Central Park is one of the cooler experiences I’ve had since taking on this list! Stay tuned for next year’s schedule of shows!