New York’s most high-profile free summer theater program is Shakespeare in the Park, the Public Theater’s annual series at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (It’s the one that recently found itself the target of protests over an onstage death of a Trumplike Julius Caesar.) But there are other local companies devoted to putting on shows — most of them outdoors, weather permitting — that won’t cost you a penny. Here’s a guide.
New York Classical Theater
All of this company’s rehearsals and outdoor performances are free and open to the public. But don’t expect to kick back in your seat: Audiences follow the action over about three city blocks during each show. This year’s offerings, staged at parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn, include Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals” (through July 16), a play that had its New York premiere in 1778 on John Street in Lower Manhattan, and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (through Aug. 22), a tragedy about greed, ambition and three prophetic witches in a blood-soaked Scotland. No tickets or reservations are needed.
Classics are a specialty of the resident theater company at the Bernie Wohl Arts Center on the Upper West Side. This summer the troupe goes swashbuckler with Susane Lee’s “The Three Musketeers: Four Plays Over Four Years” (through July 23) and Shakespeare’s “Henry V” (July 27-Aug. 30). All performances are at the north patio of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, West 89th Street and Riverside Drive. Admission is pay what you can, and no advance tickets are required.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Attention Shakespeare completists: This annual festival, produced by the Drilling Company, will present “Henry VI Part 3” (July 27-Aug. 12), a seldom-mounted drama about the Medieval English war between York and Lancaster. In a news release, Hamilton Clancy, who will direct the modern-dress production, said he felt it was “the best play in the canon to reflect our current political polarization.” Performances will take place at the parking lot behind Clemente Soto, 114 Norfolk Street, on the Lower East Side. If a bloody history play isn’t your idea of summertime amusement, the company is also presenting Shakespeare’s comedy “All’s Well That Ends Well” (Through July 22) and, in partnership with Bryant Park Presents, productions of “Twelfth Night” (July 28-30) and “The Tempest” (Aug. 25-Sept. 9) in Bryant Park.
Potomac Theater Project
If Shakespeare and other classic plays don’t set your heart aflutter, the Potomac Theater Project’s After Dark series of experimental workshops, readings and works-in-progress offers an under-the-radar alternative. Works include “Kolonists,” about a once-privileged Russian family, set in 1996, and “Pantry Boys,” about two writers in Berlin who terrorize a Syrian asylum seeker next door. All events take place at Atlantic Stage 2 through Aug. 6. Reservations are recommended by emailing PTPAfterDarks@gmail.com.
Theater for the New City
This politically minded company will present a new musical, “Checks and Balances, or Bottoms Up!,” that will travel to all five boroughs from Aug. 5 to Sept. 17. Featuring a score by Joseph A. Banks and book and lyrics by Crystal Field, the company’s artistic director, the show will be performed on city streets, parks and playgrounds. It’s about a Catholic schoolgirl who “is galvanized into a community activist and, together with key allies, learns to fight back against forces of tyranny, prejudice and hatred,” according to a news release. Other characters include a dancing Statue of Liberty; a Fake News ballet with a chorus of women dressed in newsprint, and a “Spirit of Trump apparition which rises above the stage as its two arms — with their little hands — envelop the stage.”
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