This post is about the 5 ways you can get a FREE ticket to see a Shakespeare play in Central Park, including practical information like directions to the theater and how to prepare for this most memorable evening!
For over 50 years, every summer, on several nights a week, Shakespeare plays are performed for the public for free at the charming Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The Shakespeare in the Park program makes it possible for people to see top-notch performances of Shakespeare plays with some of the best actors and actresses of the day.
Just a few of the superb actors who have appeared are James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Denzel Washington, Patrick Stewart, and Al Pacino.
The performances are staged by the Public Theater, one of the preeminent non-profit theater companies in the United States. It was founded in 1954 in a church basement on the Lower East Side by the legendary producer Joseph Papp.
Other than Shakespeare in the Park, the Public Theater puts on some of the best live performances in New York City, from stage productions at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, and live music and solo performers in Joe’s Pub.
Tickets are given out by a lottery system. Although it is not easy to get tickets, it is not impossible and you should definitely give it a shot. Tickets are always for THAT NIGHT’s performance, so it’s best to be flexible if you want to see a performance.
The 5 ways to get Shakespeare in the Park tickets include:
See below for the detailed information about each of these 5 methods.
What you need to know if you get tickets
What to do if you don’t get tickets
There is SO much to do in the summer in New York, you have hundreds of events to choose from! Our New York City Summer Guide is a great place to start. Be sure to look at our posts:
As a traveler on the move, the app lottery can be a great time saver. It will require that you have a mobile device and either wi-fi access or the willingness to use data charges which add up if you are from overseas! Here’s how it works:
On each public performance date, a limited number of tickets for that night’s performance will be distributed via mobile lottery through the TodayTix app. You can enter the lottery between 12:00 am (midnight) and 12:00 pm (noon) on the day of each public performance. Each winner will get two (2) tickets to that night’s performance.
Open the app and scroll down to find “Free Shakespeare in the Park”. Enter the lottery for two free tickets. Make sure your name and e-mail address are correct and that TodayTix push notifications are turned on, so you can receive confirmation of lottery status. On the confirmation screen, you may double or triple your odds by sharing your entry via Facebook and Twitter.
Finding out if you won. You will be notified if between 12 pm noon and 2:15 pm on the day of the show. You must confirm your winning tickets in the TodayTix app within 45 minutes of being notified. Note: This means you must have access to wi-fi between the hours of noon and at least 2:15 pm or you will not receive your notification.
Pick up your tickets starting at 5:00 pm at the Delacorte Theater Box Office. Tickets not claimed by 7:30 pm will be forfeited.
This is the most popular, but time-consuming way to get a ticket. It’s a bit of a New York tradition to have waited online for Shakespeare in the Park tickets at least once in their lives. It can actually be a fun and rewarding experience!
Here is how it works:
Advice and survival tips for the waiting on the ticket line
Names are drawn from the voucher pool at 12:00 pm so you know within a half-hour if you’ve gotten a ticket.
Click here to find out more about the in-person lottery.
There are a very limited number of tickets given out this way. Each person can submit two vouchers, and each voucher is good for one ticket.
Those selected must redeem the voucher for a ticket between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm at the Delacorte Theater Box Office under the name and address used for registration. If you do not pick up your tickets by 7:00 pm, they will be released to the stand-by line.
On specific dates (check website), a limited number of vouchers for that night’s performance are distributed at a designated location in one of New York’s five boroughs.
For example, one day will be designated as a Brooklyn location ticket voucher distribution site. There is still the regular line by Central Park, but the location in Brooklyn will have some tickets.
The same occurs on a different day in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan. Often, the locations where they are distributed are kind of cool neighborhoods to check out anyway.
Ticket vouchers will be distributed between 12:00 pm noon and 2:00 pm until they run out. Please note that the lines for these outer borough distributions can be long. Not nearly as long as the regular one at Central Park, but you are not guaranteed a ticket. But it’s a good reason to get out of Manhattan and check out somewhere new!
As a last resort, try the standby line which starts to form at 6 pm at the Delacorte Box Office. If there are any unclaimed tickets, they are distributed just before 8 pm. There is a limit of 1 standby ticket per person.
If you don’t succeed, why not take a walk around the park.
If you are looking for other free summer activities be sure to check out our free summertime guide. And if you are looking to save money on lots attractions, think about getting a tourist pass. If you need some guidance about this read our post, “Should you buy an NYC tourist discount card?“