The Entertainment is as Free as the Air - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

The Entertainment is as Free as the Air

Hip to Hip Theatre Company, seen here in a 2016 production, has “Free Shakespeare in the Parks” in rep through Aug. 20. Photo by Jason Marr.

BY TRAV S.D. | A few weeks ago, one might have been forgiven for predicting that free outdoor productions in New York, in particular those of Shakespeare plays, would soon be heading for the hills. The Public Theater’s controversial Trump-themed production of “Julius Caesar” inflamed passions throughout the entire country. Many theaters received angry letters despite having no connection with the Public, “Julius Caesar,” or even Shakespeare. Nothing daunted, numerous NYC theaters are continuing to ply their trade throughout the rest of this summer, free of charge, at a park near you.

In spite of all the angry op-eds and the loss of some corporate sponsorships, the Public Theater itself is midway through its 55th annual summer season of Free Shakespeare in the Park. On July 11, they opened a new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Lear deBessonet and starring Phylicia Rashad, Robert Joy, and the husband-and-wife acting team of Annaleigh Ashford and Joe Tapper. This “fairytale fantasia” will be at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, 8pm, through Aug. 13 (enter at 81st St. & Central Park West or 79th St. & Fifth Ave.). Renowned cast members and an actual sit-down amphitheater mean that there is always substantial demand for the Public’s Free Shakespeare.

The normal procedure is to wait online for tickets at the box office, which opens at noon, on the day of the show. If “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” proves difficult to get into, the Public’s “Public Works” program will be presenting a musical version of “As You Like It” at the same venue from Sept. 1–5, featuring a cast of 200 community members and professionals. More information and tickets available at publictheater.org.

This wouldn’t be New York if the Public didn’t have at least a half dozen scrappy competitors waiting in the wings with their own free productions. Here are a few others.

“Shakespeare in the Parking Lot” is the one with most the whimsical name, and, at 22 years old, it is already becoming an institution itself. Three different theatre troupes have presented this series over its history; The Drilling Company has carried the baton since 2005. The company performs in the parking lot behind The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, located at 114 Norfolk St. in the Lower East Side (btw. Delancey & Rivington Sts.). Seats are available on a first come, first served basis; blankets will be spread out once seats are gone (you can bring your own chair).

Having already given us “All’s Well That Ends Well” this summer, their next production will be “Henry VI, Part 3,” presented Thurs.–Sat., 7pm, through Aug. 12. For those who prefer a greener location in Midtown, The Drilling Company is also offering free Shakespeare productions in Bryant Park, as well: “Twelfth Night” (July 28–30) and “The Tempest” (Aug. 25–Sept. 9). Go to shakespeareintheparkinglot.com for more details.

The Drilling Company presents “Henry VI, Part 3” through Aug. 12 in the parking lot at The Clemente. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Meanwhile, the Queens-based Hip to Hip Theatre Company’s “Free Shakespeare in the Parks” will visit outdoor venues in all five boroughs as well as Jersey City and Southampton, Long Island. This season they are presenting “Measure for Measure” and “Henry IV, Part 1” through Aug. 20. Their Manhattan spot is the Harlem Meer in Central Park (110th St & Malcolm X Blvd.). They’ll be there at 6:30pm Aug. 9 (“Measure) and 16 (“Henry”). For details, visit hiptohip.org.

Over on the west side, Hudson Warehouse, which styles itself “The OTHER Shakespeare in the Park” will be presenting their version of “Henry V” at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in the Upper West Side’s Riverside Park from July 27–Aug. 20, Thurs.–Sun., 6:30pm (W. 89th St. & Riverside Drive). Go to hudsonwarehouse.net to learn more.

Hudson Warehouse just closed their adaptation of “The Three Musketeers” on July 23, but if fans of the Dumas swashbuckler are very quick, they can catch the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s version, which plays at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park through July 30; Tues.–Sun., 8pm; Fri. at 8:30pm, rain or shine (enter the park at 124th St. & Fifth Ave., walk south to the venue). Of the companies listed in this roundup, the Classical Theatre of Harlem is second only to the Public in prestige. The names of the performers may not be household words, but you have seen many of them: most have Broadway, film, and TV credits. To learn more, go to cthnyc.org.

The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s “The Three Musketeers” plays through July 30 in Marcus Garvey Park at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater. Photo by Richard Termine.

For those who like a little exercise with their Shakespeare, there’s New York Classical Theatre. Their new production of “Macbeth” will be presented in The Battery (meet at Castle Clinton; Battery Pl. at State St.). Audiences participate by walking from scene to scene in various locations within a three-block radius. They also make special provisions for those who require special help getting around.  Open rehearsals happen through July 30; official performances run at 7pm July 31–Aug. 20 (excluding Thursdays). Their website is newyorkclassical.org.

If your taste in classics runs to the very ancient, the American Thymele Theatre presents its latest annual New York Euripides Summer Festival. This year the Hellenic-themed company presents “The Madness of Hercules,” July 31–Aug. 6, 6pm, at locations including East River Park and Marcus Garvey Park. Visit americanthymeletheatre.yolasite.com.

Lastly, sometimes it’s not the play but the concept which is the classic. cs annual summer Street Theater tour is rapidly approaching the half-century mark. Every year they present an all-new, original musical production with an activist theme, and bring it to parks and other outdoor locations in all five boroughs. This year’s show, entitled “Checks and Balances, or Bottom’s Up!” is up Aug. 5–Sept. 17. It will be playing streets, parks, and playgrounds; see theaterforthenewcity.net for the full schedule.

The Drilling Company presents “Henry VI, Part 3” through Aug. 12 in the parking lot at The Clemente. Photo by Wai Wing Lau.

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