For over 50 years, more than five million people have been mesmerized watching top-notch performances of Shakespeare plays in this beautiful outdoor amphitheater lit only with torches, transporting the audience to a time long gone when Shakespeare’s plays were the hottest ticket in town. (Of course, we’ve also got some pretty hot shows on Broadway, and though they aren’t free like Shakespeare in the Park, it is possible to get discount Broadway show tickets.) Just a few of the superb actors who have appeared are James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Denzel Washington, Patrick Stewart, and Al Pacino.
Each summer two Shakespeare plays are performed for the public at no cost at the charming Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The sponsors of this annual event is The Public Theater, founded as The Shakespeare Workshop in 1954 by Joseph Papp, with the intention of showcasing the works of up-and-coming playwrights and performers.
The Shakespeare in the Park 2017 season features Julius Caesar (May 23-June 18) , followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream (July 11–August 13). Click on the links for each play to see the exact performance dates.
Although it is not easy to get tickets for the free performances, it is not impossible. Do not schedule your day around winning a ticket. It’s a game of chance. But hey, it’s free to try, so why not! Especially if you know all the different ways you can obtain them. Here are the FIVE ways to try to get tickets to this unforgettable experience.
1) LOTTERY VIA MOBILE DEVICE APP
As a traveler on the move, the app lottery can be a great time saver. It will require that you have a mobile device and either wi-fi access or the willingness to use data charges which add up if you are from overseas! Here’s how it works:
On each public performance date, a limited number of tickets for that night’s performance will be distributed via mobile lottery through the TodayTix app. You can enter the lottery between 12:00am (midnight) and 12:00pm (noon) on the day of each public performance. Each winner will get two (2) tickets to that night’s performance.
Step 1: Download the TodayTix app in the App Store or Google Play Store. Mobile entries require iOS 7.0 or later on iPhone, iPad, and iPad Touch; or Android 2.3 or later on Android and Kindle devices.
Step 2: Open the app and scroll down to find “Free Shakespeare in the Park”. Enter the lottery for two free tickets. Make sure your name and e-mail address are correct and that TodayTix push notifications are turned on, so you can receive confirmation of lottery status. On the confirmation screen, you may double or triple your odds by sharing your entry via Facebook and Twitter.
Step 3: Finding out if you won. You will be notified if between 12pm noon and 2:15pm on the day of the show. You must confirm your winning tickets in the TodayTix app within 45 minutes of being notified. Note: This means you must have access to wi-fi between the hours of noon and at least 2:15 pm or you will not receive your notification.
Step 4: Pick up your tickets starting at 5:00 pm at the Delacorte Theater Box Office. Tickets not claimed by 7:30pm will be forfeited.
2) WAIT IN LINE AT THE DELACORTE THEATER
This is the most popular, but time-consuming way to get a ticket. It’s a bit of a New York tradition to have waited online for Shakespeare in the Park tickets at least once in their lives. It can actually be a fun and rewarding experience! Here is how it works:
Advice and survival tips for the waiting on the ticket line
This is a long shot but if you are down in the area of Greenwich Village walk by the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place and get a voucher at 11:30 am on the day of a performance. Names are drawn from the voucher pool at 12:00 pm so you know within a half-hour if you’ve gotten a ticket. There are a very limited number of tickets given out this way. Each person can submit two vouchers, and each voucher is good for one ticket. Those selected must redeem redeem the voucher(s) for ticket(s) between 5:00pm and 7:00pm at the Delacorte Theater Box Office under the name and address used for registration. If you do not pick up your tickets by 7:00 pm, they will be released to the stand-by line.
4) TICKET DISTRIBUTIONS IN THE OUTER BOROUGHS
On specific dates (check website), a limited number of vouchers for that night’s performance are distributed at a designated location in one of New York’s five boroughs. For example, one day will be designated as a Brooklyn location ticket voucher distribution site. There is still the regular line by Central Park, but the location in Brooklyn will have some tickets.
The same occurs on a different day in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan. Often, the locations where they are distributed are kind of cool neighborhoods to check out anyway. Ticket vouchers will be distributed between 12:00pm noon and 2:00pm until they run out. Please note that the lines for these outer borough distributions can be long. Not nearly as long as the regular one at Central Park, but you are not guaranteed a ticket. But its a good reason to get out of Manhattan and check out somewhere new!
5) STANDBY TICKETS
As a last resort, try the standby line which starts to form at 6pm at the Delacorte Box Office. If there are any unclaimed tickets, they are distributed just before 8 pm. There is a limit of 1 standby ticket per person. If you don’t succeed, why not take a walk around the park.
Now that you know the five ways to try to get tickets, here is info on the essentials:
Weather: Performances are never cancelled for weather before 8 pm when the show starts. If the weather is bad there will be a delay of the start. If the weather continues they will cancel the performance. If a performance is cancelled due to weather you do not receive a ticket for another day. Make sure you check the forecast before you go wait in line!
Food and drink: You can bring food and drinks into the theater with you, as long as nothing is in a glass container.
Bathrooms: There are decent bathrooms available at the Delacorte Theater.
OTHER SUMMER FUN
If you are looking for other free summer activities be sure to check out our free summertime guide. And if you are looking to save money on lots attractions, think about getting a tourist pass. If you need some guidance about this read our post, “Should you buy a NYC tourist discount card?“