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10 Must-See Free Summer Shows in New York City

Learn how to see theater for nothing all summer.

Free theater is a cherished summertime tradition in New York City — one that not only highlights established exceptional talent but also showcases stars on the rise. Here's our guide to the best shows on offer in 2017, both indoor and outdoor, Shakespeare and beyond. Spend your summer catching these shows right here in Manhattan or in your local borough:

Gregg Henry (center) leads the company of the free Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, directed by Oskar Eustis, at the Delacorte Theater.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. Julius Caesar — Shakespeare in the Park (Closes June 18)
Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis helms Shakespeare's drama of populism and patriotism in ancient Rome, in which a charismatic leader is felled by a group of senators worried about the future of the republic. Eustis has written that the play is a cautionary tale for those who would employ undemocratic methods to try to fight for democracy — a relevant lesson for 2017.

Michael Hanson and Katie Willmorth star in the Smith Street Stage production of Richard III, directed by Jonathan Hopkins, in Carroll Park.
(© Chris Montgomery)

2. Richard III — Smith Street Stage (Closes June 25)
As the winter of our discontent recedes into memory, you can spend glorious summer in Brooklyn's Carroll Park, which is hosting Smith Street Stage and its production of Richard III. Michael Hanson plays the title character as a charismatic politician backed by a scheming consultant named Buckingham (Katie Willmorth).

Allison Porta plays Princess Leonide, and Nate Mattingly plays Agis in Pierre de Marivaux's The Triumph of Love, directed by Emily Rose Parman, at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park.
(© Susane Lee)

3. The Triumph of Love — Hudson Warehouse (Closes June 25)
Pierre de Marivaux's comedy about a crafty Spartan princess disguised as a male philosophy student is set to play for the remainder of June on the back patio of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park. Enjoy the comic mayhem of Hudson Warehouse and the sunset over the Hudson River.

The cast of Hudson Warehouse's The Three Musketeers prepares for its first fight rehearsal.
(© Susane Lee)

4. The Three Musketeers — Hudson Warehouse (June 29-July 23)
The Hudson Warehouse season continues with the first installment of Susane Lee's thrilling four-play adaptation of The D'Artagnan Romances. Based on Alexandre Dumas's novel, this swashbuckling action-adventure story is bound to have audiences hooked and eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

Annaleigh Ashford and Kristine Nielsen (background) starred in the 2014 Broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You. They reunite in the Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Ashford as Helena and Nielsen as Puck.
(© Joan Marcus)

5. A Midsummer Night's Dream — Shakespeare in the Park (July 11-August 13)
Featuring a cast of theater favorites (Annaleigh Ashford, De'Adra Aziza, Danny Burstein, Kristine Nielsen, and Phylicia Rashad, to name a few), the Public Theater's production of this beloved Shakespeare comedy promises to be the theatrical event of the summer. Lear deBessonet, who recently helmed the revival of Susan Lori-Parks' Venus, directs what is sure to be a highly musical and mirthful production.

6. Pete the Cat — Theatreworks (July 19-August 18)
You may have noticed that all of the shows mentioned so far are outdoors, but Theatreworks USA invites you into the air-conditioned comfort of the Lucille Lortel Theatre for this 50-minute children's musical about the special friendship between a cool cat and a high-strung second grader. Chill with Pete during the hottest months of the summer.

Holly Chou and Michael Hinton starred in the 2016 Hip to Hip Theatre production of Julius Caesar.
(© Julian Voloj)

7. Measure for Measure and Henry IV, Part 1 — Hip to Hip Theatre Company (July 25-August 20)
Touching on themes of justice and mercy, Measure for Measure, about an authoritarian judge in Vienna, is one of Shakespeare's most difficult yet rewarding plays. As always, Hip to Hip will crisscross the city, taking the show to 12 parks in all five boroughs. As if that weren't enough, they're presenting the show in repertory with Henry IV, Part 1, Shakespeare's history of the rebellious Prince Hal. The two plays should pair well.

Lucas Calzada, Drew Valins, and Andrew Bryce starred in the 2015 Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production of Macbeth, directed by Jesse Ontiveros, in the parking lot behind the Clemente.
(© Aurelie Camus)

8. Henry VI, Part 3 — Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (July 27-August 12)
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot takes on the climactic final chapter of the Henry VI trilogy, which sees a hopelessly divided England torn apart by warring factions…in a parking lot! For anyone feeling despondent about current politics, Shakespeare is here to say, "Things could be worse."

9. The Tragedy of Macbeth — New York Classical Theatre (July 31-August 27)
New York's favorite panoramic theatrical troupe (that means you run around from scene to scene) does the Scottish Play in two exciting locations: in and around Castle Clinton in the Battery and, for the final week, Brooklyn Bridge Park. See it both times to learn how the scenery changes the experience.

The Drilling Company presented As You Like It in Bryant Park last summer.
(© Lee Wexler)

10. The Tempest — Bryant Park (August 25-September 9)
Close out the summer with this magical play about an exiled sorcerer duke and his daughter, widely seen as the Bard's theatrical farewell. The Drilling Company presents the show in Bryant Park, conveniently located in the heart of midtown.