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How to Score Free Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park in NYC

May 25, 2018 - by Merrill Lee Girardeau
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Shakespeare in the Park is a quintessential New York activity, with famous actors performing some of the finest dialogue written in English—and it all happens at an outdoor theater on beautiful summer evenings. Every summer, the theater company The Public holds these performances in Central Park’s 1,800-seat Delacorte Theater. This year, you can see Othello from May 29 to June 24 and a musical adaptation of the bard’s Twelfth Night from July 17 to August 19. Every day of the performances, you have a chance to win free tickets to the show. Read on to find out how!

Shakespeare in the park

Shakespeare in the Park Tickets: Wait in Central Park

Each day of the public performances of Shakespeare in the Park (be sure to check which performance dates apply), tickets are distributed at noon in front of the Delacorte Theater for that evening’s show. These tickets are incredibly competitive, and here’s how we know: people start lining up for them in the wee hours of the morning, before the park opens at 6am. Because seats are randomly assigned and not based on line order, we’d recommend arriving in line at 7am at the absolute latest.

It’ll be a long wait until noon, so be sure to bring a portable chair, blanket, activities like books or playing cards, and food for the 5 or more hours you’ll be spending in line. Fortunately there are public restrooms at the Delacorte, a beautiful park surrounding you, and a line full of friendly locals and visitors to befriend. Up your chances by catching the line on a weekday or a day with rain in the forecast—although if the rain is too hard, it may be a soggy wait and/or the performance might be cancelled. As with all of the free ticket options, you must register as a Public Theater Patron to receive tickets.

Shakespeare in the Park Tickets: Digital Lottery

If you’re unavailable to wait in Central Park (or don’t want to get up that early), download the TodayTix app and take advantage of the digital lottery, where a limited number of tickets come available. Enter your name anytime between midnight and noon on the date of the show you’d like to see. You can secure up to two tickets. Between noon and 2:15pm the same day, look for a confirmation to see if you have had greatness thrust upon you (a line from The Twelfth Night, just so you know). Your tickets will be waiting at the box office between 5pm and 7:30pm. If unclaimed, they go to a lucky soul in the standby line.

Shakespeare in the Park Tickets: Wait in the East Village 

Joe's Pub

Another more time-saving option is the lottery at The Public Theater on Astor Place. The day of the show you’d like to see, come to the theater and enter your name for the lottery between 11am and noon. The winners will be drawn at random, and you can win up to two seats. The advantage of this option is that there’s no line, but also you may have less chances of winning. You’ll be given a voucher for tickets that you’ll redeem between 5 and 7:30pm that evening at the box office. Like the Central Park crowd, you’ll need to register as a Public Theater Patron before you get to the theater, as it’s mandatory to pick up your tickets.

Shakespeare in the Park Tickets: Borough Distribution

On certain performance dates, The Public Theater will send people to one the five boroughs to hand out ticket vouchers to Shakespeare in the Park. Indeed, a public service by The Public! Like the vouchers received at The Public’s lottery, you can receive up to two vouchers, redeemable at the Delacorte in Central Park from 5:30 to 7:30pm. Check back on the website for a distribution calendar for both plays this season. The time and place of these distribution sites have not yet been revealed, but usually, vouchers are distributed beginning at noon. And we suggest you get there early!

Shakespeare in the Park Tickets: Standby Line 

This option is a last resort, but if you’re around Central Park and feeling lucky, go for it! People who don’t come claim their tickets by 7:30 the night of the performance forfeit them to you and your friends in the standby line. You’ll find a surprising number of hopefuls here, especially on weekends, so don’t hold your breath. But who knows? You may be pierced by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Hamlet says.   

The Delacorte Theater is located in Central Park at 79th Street; 81 Central Park West. The Public Theater in the East Village is located at 425 Lafayette St. Find out more about Shakespeare in the Park at publictheater.org.

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