For New Yorkers and tourists alike, free Shakespeare in the Park is a summer must-see in New York City.
Did I mention it is free? And of course, the "Park" is Central Park. Specifically, the beautiful Delacorte Theatre located right in the middle of it.
Each summer, the Public Theater stages productions of one Shakespeare comedy and one tragedy. We have always opted for the comedies - although honestly, it seems the tragedies usually have bigger-name stars.
You may have heard of a few of the actors from recent productions - John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Amy Adams, Al Pacino, Live Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, etc. etc. etc.
There are several ways to get tickets. They are free, but getting them takes a bit of effort - which is totally worth it in my book.
The most popular way is to line up for free tickets. This is definitely a "thing" to do in New York. You have to do this at least once, just to experience it. If you live here, you'll see how nice your neighbors can be. If you are visiting, this experience will show you just how super-nice New Yorkers actually are.
Most days, people start lining up on the sidewalk by the theater by 5 a.m. The bigger the stars - the longer the lines.
They bring folding chairs, blankets, books, games, etc. It is a pretty civilized experience. Volunteers from the theater keep everyone on line in line with a bit of humor, info about the shows - and a reminder that everyone has to play by the rules (two tickets per person, no selling the tickets, etc.) People order breakfast from Seamless from nearby delis on their mobile phones. Delivery guys constantly bike in and out of the park with people's orders for coffee and bagels.
Tickets are handed out at noon for that day's performance only. If you miss out, you have to come back another day and try it all over again.
They also have a mobile lottery for a limited number of tickets, and distribute a limited number of tickets for select performances at locations around the city. Here's an overview of all of the options.
We have camped out for tickets (it really is fun!), but the last two years we have "cheated" and reserved our "free" seats several months in advance by becoming Summer Supporters of the Public Theater.
Last year, as it turned out, we unknowingly picked the perfect year to join. Not only did we get our Shakespeare tickets without line-sitting, but since "Hamilton" originated at the Public Theater - we got first shot at buying tickets when it moved to Broadway before they went on sale to the public. (We didn't save any money on them, but we did get to see it fairly early in the run).
For me, getting the tickets in hand is just the first step. Then it's on to Wikipedia to read and re-read a synopsis of the play. Without it, I'd be lost trying to watch Shakespeare.
New Yorkers - what are the other "must do" things to do during the summer in the city?