Special Reports

Story of the Week: Free Theater in New York City This Summer

Here are nine shows you can see this summer free of charge.

One of the best things about New York City is the theater — and the very best thing about summer in New York City is free theater. Story of the Week will highlight nine productions happening this summer, which you can enjoy (often in our city’s lovely parks) complete for free.

Joel Perez stars as Antipholus (both of them) in the Mobile Unit’s production of The Comedy of Errors.
(© Peter Cooper)

The Comedy of Errors – Mobile Unit (through June 11)

This new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of two sets of twins separated at birth is touring all over New York City at the moment (you can track its progression here). Julián Mesri has written all new songs inspired by Latin-American musical traditions, which the actors perform as if they’re on a musical telenovela (you can read my full review here). At 90 minutes, it’s a great way to experience one of Shakespeare’s zaniest comedies.


Lower East Side Festival of the Arts – Theater for the New City (May 26-28)

Theater for the New City claims over 200 performing arts organizations will take part in its 28th annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts (which it will improbably squeeze in and around its First Avenue space over Memorial Day weekend). This year’s theme is “The Heat Is On,” with participating acts addressing the central theme of climate change. Chinese Theatre Works, Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater, and Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping will all be in attendance, as will fabled performers Vinie Burrows, Penny Arcade, and Austin Pendleton. It promises to be a highly eclectic event.

Adam Grodman (Algernon), Katrina Dykstra (Cecily), Sarah McAfee (Gwendolen), and Nico Galloway (Jack) star in Hudson Classical Theater Company’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
(© Susane Lee)

The Importance of Being Earnest – Hudson Classical Theater Company (June 1-25)

Hudson Classical Theater Company (formerly Hudson Warehouse) is one of my favorite little troupes in the city, regularly mounting inventive and entertaining versions of the classics in the shadow of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park. This most popular Oscar Wilde comedy is about two English gentlemen who assume the name “Ernest” before their respective romantic interests, though neither of them is being entirely earnest in their endeavors. It’s a perennial favorite (the company last did it in 2014) and an excellent opportunity to hear Wilde’s sparkling wit under a gentle breeze off the Hudson River.


As You Like It – Smith Street Stage (June 7-25)

All the world’s a stage, and that include Brooklyn’s Carroll Park, which will be the site of a new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It from Smith Street Stage and director Katie Willmorth. About love and high jinks in the Forest of Arden, the script provides ample opportunity for high comedy, delightful music, and a little bit of professional wrestling. This one is fun for the whole family.


Free Summer Shows on Little Island (June 7-September 3)

New York’s newest island, Little Island, will host a series of free concerts by some of Broadway’s biggest names: Amber Iman (June 18 & July 2); Tonya Pinkins (June 14, 15, 21 & 22); Daniel J. Watts (June 24); Grace McLean (July 23, August 20 & September 3); Joshua Henry (August 5 & 12); and Shaina Taub (August 24). That’s just a small sampling of a whole summer of free music, comedy, and dance. You can peruse the full schedule at Little Island here.

Ato Blankson-Wood will play the title role in Hamlet in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park.
(© Tricia Baron)

Hamlet – Shakespeare in the Park (June 8-August 6)

The OG — often imitated, but never surpassed. The Public Theater (originally called “New York Shakespeare Festival”) returns to the Delacorte Theater (its summer home since 1962) for an extended run of Shakespeare’s essential tragedy, Hamlet, about a cerebral and indecisive prince tasked with avenging the death of his father. Ato Blankson-Wood, who played Orlando in last summer’s As You Like It, takes on the title role in a production directed by Kenny Leon, who helmed the much-loved 2019 production of Much Ado About Nothing. Breaking with recent tradition, the Public is only mounting one show in the Park this summer, which means a much longer window to view Hamlet. To see or not to see? Obviously, you’re going, and the Public’s multiple avenues of distribution make it easier than ever.


The School for Scandal – Hudson Classical Theater Company (June 29 – July 23)

The next offering from Hudson Classical Theater is Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of manners about people of the leisure class who have too much time on their hands and who use their idleness to engage in all manner of intrigue. We can safely assume that the actors will be working hard in the July heat as they dash on and off the back patio of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in 18th century costume.

Allen Gilmore played Malvolio in Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of Twelfth Night  last summer.
(© Richard Termine)

Malvolio – Classical Theatre of Harlem (July 8-29)

Last summer, Classical Theatre of Harlem presented Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, starring Kara Young, who had just scored her first Tony nomination for Clyde’s (she now has another for Cost of Living). This year, the company is back with the world premiere of Betty Shamieh’s Malvolio, a sequel to Twelfth Night centered on the steward who famously wears yellow stockings and cross garters in a vain attempt to woo Olivia. What other harebrained schemes could this social-climbing fop get up to? Show up to Marcus Garvey Park this July and find out.


Margaret: Shakespeare’s Warrior Queen – Hudson Classical Theater Company (July 27 – August 20)

The Hudson Classical Theater summer season ends with a new take on Shakespeare’s War of the Roses tetralogy refocused on Margaret, the iron-willed queen of Henry VI. Often portrayed as unfaithful and domineering (by Shakespeare himself), Margaret holds a place of sympathy in my heart as a fierce defender of her family who refuses to be a passive victim of the male-orchestrated game of thrones happening around her. Katherine Lerner-Lam will star as the warrior queen in this adaptation by director Nicholas Martin-Smith, which is set to have plenty of bloody fight scenes choreographed by Jared Kirby, who conceived of the project. I’m very eager to see what Hudson Classical does with this one.

Featured In This Story


Closed: July 29, 2023

As You Like It

Closed: June 25, 2023