Special Reports

Story of the Week: All the Free Shows You Should See in New York This Summer

Thespians take over NYC’s parks this summer, offering free theater al fresco.

Last Thursday was the official first day of summer — and those of us sweating it out in New York City felt it. Summer is the best time to catch free theater in the city, and while the usual main event of the season, the Public Theater’s annual Free Shakespeare in the Park, is currently on hiatus, that doesn’t mean the party’s canceled. In fact, it’s an opportunity for you to check out the other free productions happening in the city in the coming months.

Story of the Week is happy to offer this handy guide:

Theater 2020 performs in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
(© Theater 2020)

June 29-30: The Tempest (Theater 2020)
Lovingly adapted by David Fuller and directed by Judith Jarosz, this is Shakespeare’s tale of the exiled sorcerer Duke of Milan and the storm he conjures to bring the traitors to his magical island. Fuller plays the lead role of Prospero in this family-friendly cut, which can be performed in just 75 minutes! Theater 2020 will give just two free performances this weekend at the Granite Prospect in Brooklyn Bridge Park, with the unbeatable backdrop of the famous bridge and lower Manhattan at day’s end. Performances begin at 5:30pm.


Through Jule 30: The Comedy of Errors (Public Theater’s Mobile Unit)
Just because the Delacorte is out of commission this summer doesn’t mean the Public Theater is MIA. On the contrary, they’ve been everywhere with Rebecca Martínez and Julián Mesri’s bilingual adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Error, an epically hilarious and implausible case of mistaken identity. In my review, I praised the creators for turning, “this 429-year-old play into a zippy 90-minute musical in Shakespearean Spanglish.” In the grand tradition of Joe Papp, they’ve loaded up a truck and driven it to makeshift stages all over the city. They’ll finish up this weekend at Prospect Park and St. John the Divine. Don’t miss it!


Nuah Ozryel, Nick Salamone, and Ian Gould appear in in New York Classical Theatre’s Henry IV.
(© Sarah Antal)

Through July 14: Henry IV (New York Classical Theatre)
NY Classical’s runaround Shakespeare treats New York City’s Parks as its stage, changing locations scene-to-scene and bringing the audience with them. This year’s production is a condensed version of the Bard’s two-part Henry IV, about the new King’s hold on legitimacy and his struggle to get his wayward son to grow up. Our critic remarked that the production, “smartly retains the most engaging aspects of both plays while jettisoning the tedious bits,” which is a good thing when you’re competing against the always engaging theater of the city’s parks. While the show finishes its run in Central Park this weekend, it will play Carl Schurz Park and the Battery in July.


Mace Cowart and Isabella Chang star in Boomerang Theatre Company’s Romeo & Juliet in Central Park.
(© Boomerang Theatre Company)

Through July 14: Romeo & Juliet (Boomerang Theatre Company)
Isabella Chang and Mace Cowart star as Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers in a production from director Christina Rose Ashby that promises a “modern and violent Verona” emerging from the greenery of Central Park. Additionally, if you sign up for Boomerang’s mailing list, they will give you access to a special R&J Spotify playlist — a perfect way to salve your summertime sadness as you wait for the next Broadway revival of Romeo & Juliet.


Stephen Solow plays multiple roles and is the fight director for Hudson Classical Theater Company’s Coriolanus.
(© Susane Lee)

June 27 – July 21: Coriolanus (Hudson Classical Theater Company)
Is he the best man for the job or a blinkered elite? Maybe a bit of both. This is Shakespeare’s play about a triumphant Roman general (with serious mommy issues) who vies for the highest office in the land but cannot mask his disdain for the plebians whose support he will need to win. As always, Hudson Classical’s production will take place on the North patio of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park, a perfect setting for this tale of Roman perfidy. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 6:30pm.


Twelfth Night Classical Theatre of Harlem
Audiences gather at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park for Classical Theatre of Harlem.
(© Classical Theatre of Harlem)

July 6-28: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Classical Theatre of Harlem)
Is there any more beloved Shakespeare comedy than this summertime romp featuring mischievous fairies, rude mechanicals, sexy hijinks in the woods, and multiple weddings? Classical Theatre of Harlem returns to Marcus Garvey Park for this crowd-pleaser. Stand-up comedy superstar Russell Peters will play Nick Bottom, the ass-faced weaver who becomes the object of desire for Queen Titania. Director Carl Cofield sets his production in the Harlem Renaissance, in what is sure to be a series of magical nights uptown.


Twelfth Night (Susane Lee)
Nicholas Martin-Smith (pointing at camera) will helm Hudson Classical Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night in Riverside Park.
(© Susane Lee)

July 25 – August 18: Twelfth Night (Hudson Classical Theater Company)
Once the blood from Coriolanus is washed off the patio, Hudson Classical launches right into its season closer, Twelfth Night, another comedy of gender-bending mistaken identity and one very funny bit with cross-gartered yellow stockings. Nicholas Martin-Smith directs the production. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 6:30pm. No need to reserve. Just show up — but maybe leave a small donation on your way out.


Hip to Hip Julian Voloj
A scene from last year’s Hip to Hip production of The Comedy of Errors.
(© Julian Voloj)

August 7-24: The Winter’s Tale & A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hip to Hip Theatre Company)
Queens residents won’t want to miss these two plays in rep from a stalwart troupe of wandering players (you can track their movements here, which will include excursions to Jersey City and Southampton). We’ve already discussed Midsummer, a mainstay of the free summer Shakespeare genre. But Shakespeare’s famously problematic The Winter’s Tale (is it a comedy? A drama?) is a bold choice, ideal for the adventurous theatergoer.


New York City Opera Unveils 2024 Summer Season Celebrating 100 Years Of Puccini Bryant Park Picnic Performances 1714567606
New York City Opera marked the centenary of the death of Puccini earlier this year, and will return for Tosca in August.
(© New York City Opera)

August 23-24: Tosca (New York City Opera)
Lest they feel adrift in this sea of Shakespeare, opera fans should mark their calendars for August 23 and 24. That’s when New York City Opera will present two free performances of its production of Tosca, Giacomo Puccini’s tale of lust, jealousy, and power in a time of political instability. Soprano Kristin Sampson plays the title role, with Victor Starsky as her artist lover and Michael Chioldi as the villainous Baron Scarpia. Performances take place in Bryant Park, with lawn chairs provided by the park.