To be or not to be at Shakespeare in the Park is not the question.
The free outdoor productions of William Shakespeare’s works in Central Park have been a tradition since 1954, earning them a spot on any proper New York summer bucket list.
Set inside the totally open-air Delacorte Theater and produced by The Public Theater, this year’s shows begin May 23 with the very timely tale of how to deal with a dangerous tyrant in “Julius Caesar” through June 18. Then comes the whimsical story of love and mistaken identity (which, come to think of it, describes several of Shakespeare’s plays) with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from July 11-Aug. 13.
Shows always start at 8 p.m., with cancellations due to weather extremely rare — which brings us to our first tip: If you don’t mind a little drizzle, you’re much more likely to score last-minute tickets on rainy nights. And always check the online schedule before you go, as performance days vary.
Given the amazing setting of these free shows, competition for those 1,800 tickets is always fierce. Here’s how to get free Shakespeare in the Park tickets, 2017 edition.
Stand in line
Your best chance is waiting in the daily ticket distribution line. It can start before the park even opens at the 81st Street entrance before 6 a.m., then moves to the Delacorte Theater (81 Central Park West at 68th Street) until noon, when tickets are distributed for each day’s performance. Each person 5 years and older can get two tickets, so if you’ve got some Shakespeare-loving older kids in your life, make them work for their entertainment! Note that you can only do this twice for each play, and you can usually sleep in a little later on weekdays.
Stand in another line
If you stood in line for tickets and they ran out, or have a job that doesn’t allow you to stand in line for the first half of the workday, there’s a standby line for unclaimed tickets at the Delacorte Theater. It opens shortly after noon once all the tickets are distributed to the regular line, but you can arrive during what would normally be happy hour with a decent chance at tickets, which are distributed beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Try the in-person lottery
Feeling lucky? Get to the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St. at Astor Place) starting at 11 a.m. to sign up for a chance at vouchers for two tickets to that night’s performance. The lottery will be drawn at noon, and winners can redeem their vouchers from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Delacorte box office. Don’t be late — your voucher expires half an hour before showtime! Even if you’re particularly lucky, you’re limited to four tickets for each production.
Enter the digital lottery
The online lottery will once again be held through the TodayTix app (iPhone and Android). Try your luck between midnight and noon on each performance day for two tickets, with winners announced between noon at 2:15 p.m. Make sure you’ve got push notifications enabled, because you only have 45 minutes to claim your tickets after you’ve won. You must pick up your tickets between 5 and 7:30 p.m. at the Delacorte or they’ll be distributed to the standby line. You can also enter by email at email@example.com
Go to the outer boroughs
To make sure every New Yorker has a chance to see Shakespeare in the Park performances, the Public Theater has arranged sites in all five boroughs. On specific dates, a limited number of ticket vouchers to that night’s performance will be given out between noon and 2 p.m. (up to two per person). Vouchers must be redeemed between 5 and 7:30 p.m. at the Delacorte.
Make a (sizeable) donation
All those free tickets have to come from somewhere. Deep-pocketed art lovers can claim two reserved seats to Shakespeare in the Park at any (or every) show for a donation of $500 (or more for even better perks). Note that $250 of it is tax-deductible, and also gets you membership to the Public Theater with early access to tickets, discounts and special events.
Pay for them
This isn’t legal and can get you booted if you’re caught, but if you can’t wait in line, broke a mirror in the last seven years, or can’t afford tickets legitimately, well. There are various less-than-ideal ways to pay for play, whether it’s paying a line-stander (note that theater staff do their best to crack down on this) or buying them off Craigslist — just know that your cries of “Et tu, Brute!” won’t be met with sympathy if the tickets aren’t real.