Events

How to Score Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park This Season

Shakespeare in the Park
Shakespeare in the Park | Joseph Moran
Shakespeare in the Park | Joseph Moran

William Shakespeare was one down ass dude. While his works were written more than four centuries ago, his eloquent insights are as relatable and quotable as ever (all that glitters is NOT gold!) and his approach to topics like gender identity pushed the heck out of Elizabethan England’s stuffy boundaries and continue to inspire. And even though he lived and worked in a far away place, in a far away time, we can catch Shakespeare in the Park right here in New York City in 2019.

We’ve all seen and loved the countless modern adaptations, whether we realize it or not (10 Things I Hate About You is a reimagined The Taming of the Shrew, and She’s The Man is an extra goofy Twelfth Night... not to mention Leo as Romeo, hubba hubba), and every New Yorker has their own “To be, or not to be” moment on at least a weekly basis (To go to happy hour, or to stay in with Netflix; that is the question).

Still, many find Shakespeare inaccessible. To this we say: you need to see it in person! There’s no better way to have a story come to life than to see it unfold before your eyes. And when you don’t have the cash for theater tickets, remember that plenty of the Bard’s OG fans didn’t either: His shows at the Globe Theatre in London attracted the 1% and average Joes alike, with standing room starting at literally one cent.

The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park performances will do you one penny better this summer. Here’s everything you need to know about how to nab tickets.

Delacorte Theater
An evening performance at the Delacorte Theater | Steve Brown

WHAT AND WHERE IS SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK?

Shakespeare in the Park is a free, annual theatrical production presented by The Public Theater at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park. It’s been a beloved New York City activity since 1962, and every summer, The Public performs two Shakespearian works (and occasionally other classical works and musicals). Each show runs for approximately one month.

To get there by subway, take the B/C to 81st Street and enter at 81st and Central Park West, or take the 6 to 77th Street and enter at 79th and Fifth Avenue.

WHAT AND WHEN ARE THE SHOWS?

This season, you can see Much Ado About Nothing from May 21 to June 23. It’s directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon and stars Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black), Erik LaRay Harvey (Luke Cage), and Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is directed by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan and runs from July 16 to August 11.

The Public will also go the distance with a musical adaptation of Disney’s Hercules from August 31 to September 8. Oh my Zeus!

HOW DO I GET TICKETS?

First and foremost, you must have a Public Theater Patron ID. You have to show it at the box office in order to get your tickets, so if you don’t already have one, make sure to register online on The Public Theater’s website. It only takes about 60 seconds.

Then comes the tricky part. Tickets are only available day of, and since they’re for a free show, they are in hot demand and go fast. There are a few different ways to score one yourself.

Delacorte Theater
Actors perform in the outdoor amphitheater used for Shakespeare in the Park productions. | Tammy Shell

LINE UP IN CENTRAL PARK

This is the most common way to cop a ticket or two, and the best bet for success if you set aside your entire morning to wait in line.

Tickets are distributed at The Delacorte Theater starting at 12pm on a first-come, first-serve basis, and each person is allowed to claim up to two. Don’t think that means you can show up at noon -- hell, even arriving at 10am is often too late. Ashley Hufford, a video producer living in Hell’s Kitchen, attends at least one Shakespeare in the Park performance annually and lines up with friends at 6am, when Central Park officially opens to the public.

“We make a day of it,” Hufford says. “We’ll bring blankets to sit on, and a picnic lunch. It’s a long wait, so some people nap or read; we usually play cards and order iced coffees from Andy’s Deli, who will deliver right to the line.”

The line is certain to be longer on weekends and sunny days. If you have the flexibility to wait during a weekday, or the stamina to queue up in inclement weather, then do it (performances are very rarely rained out), but come prepared and take care of yourself. Freelance writer Dakota Kim learned this the hard way after two unsuccessful attempts scoring gratis seats in Central Park.

“I waited in line for over two hours to try to get tickets to see Lauren Ambrose in Romeo and Juliet in 2007, and they passed out the last ticket two people in front of me,” Kim says. “Because we were in the overhang of shade and it was cold that day, I was shivering. I ended up coming down with the flu. That was the end of my brief love affair with Shakespeare in the Park -- I never tried for tickets again.”

If mornings are an absolute no-go but you’re game to wait in line later in the day, you can attempt to snag a ticket from the standby line. Unclaimed seats will be distributed to folks on standby 30 minutes prior to showtime; the earlier you show up, the better your chances.

LINING UP ELSEWHERE

Shakespeare in the Park exists to make world-class theater available to everyone, regardless of finances; it would be self-defeating to limit access to those privileged enough to wait around Manhattan at a certain time of day. A select number of tickets will also be available at citywide distribution locations on each public performance day.

The Public Theater
The Public Theater's Noho location | Tallmaple/Shutterstock

ENTERING A LOTTERY

If you’ve got more luck than time, try your hand at one of the ticket lotteries. You have two options -- the first is to visit The Public Theater’s brick and mortar location in Noho (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place) and enter in-person, beginning at 11am. Winners are selected at noon, making it a doable lunch break excursion.

You can also enter a digital lottery via the TodayTix website and app from midnight to noon each day there’s a show, with the option to double or triple your chances by sharing your entry on social media.

Winners receive two tickets to that night’s performance, and are notified through email and the app between noon and 2:30pm that day. You only have 30 minutes to electronically claim your tickets once notified before they get released, which is as good a reason as any to keep your phone on in meetings. The tickets can then be picked up at the Delacorte Theater box office starting at 5pm.

Book editor Alicia Clancy has been to Shakespeare in the Park seven times, largely thanks to her fortune with the digital lottery. “I’m a big fan of Shakespeare in the Park, so once I knew it was approaching, I set an email alert to remind myself to apply each morning on the website, and then eventually on the app,” she says. “I think it took many people a few days to realize it had started for the season, because I won multiple times that first week!”

BUYING TICKETS

Sure, the show is free, but when has that stopped anyone in New York from using their wallet to get what they want? If none of the above methods work for you and you’re in a pinch (or you just really like to spend money, no judgment here), the options continue.

One increasingly common technique is to pay someone to stand in line at Central Park for you. Service platform TaskRabbit offers line waiting as a “featured task,” with many tasker’s prices beginning at $17.64/hr. If you go this route, allow your tasker at least three hours for a fair shot at scoring tix.

And like with any high demand show, you can always try to scalp tickets at your own risk. Laura Stampler, an author currently living in Greenwich Village, once paid $50 -- a relative bargain compared to some reports -- for a ticket she found on Craigslist.

“I was a college student, in town for just a couple days, and writing my English honors thesis on Shakespeare. I had to see the show, but didn’t want to spend the little time I had in New York waiting in line for a ticket, and risk not even getting one,” she says. “Hours later, I was meeting a random guy in a Starbucks to buy a ticket to that night’s show. Luckily, it wasn’t a forgery, and he wasn’t a murderer. The show was great,” she says.

Those with the biggest hearts/fattest wallets can also make a casual donation of $500 or more to The Public Theater to score two reserved seats. Donations are one of the ways the show stays free for everyone else, so if you’re in a position to pay, you should.
“I love going to the theater, but it can be prohibitively expensive for a lot of people; Shakespeare in the Park provides the opportunity to everyone in New York to see incredible theater for free,” Hufford says.

“There’s a moment right before the show begins, when the lights dim and they play a recording of Oskar Eustis, the artistic director at The Public Theater, welcoming everyone to the show,” she says. “He always ends with something like, ‘This theater belongs to you. Culture belongs to everyone,’ and it gets me so emotional every single time.”

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Jenny Hart is a Brooklyn-based writer, cat mom, and karaoke enthusiast. Follow her on Instagram at @jennyjhart.