Shakespeare in the Park – 5 Ways to Get Free Tickets
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 2018 season features Othello(May 29-June 24), followed by Twelfth Night(July 17–August 19). Click on the links to see the exact performance dates.
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:
Enter the digital lottery via their app. (No smartphone, no worries. Enter via email!)
Wait on line at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (an all-day adventure)
Enter the in-person lottery at the Public Theater in the East Village
On select days, wait on line at a designated location in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens or Staten Island.
Stand-by at the Delacorte Theater just before show time
See below for the detailed information about each of these 5 methods.
What you need to know if you get tickets
Getting there: The closest subways are the B or C subway to 81st Street. (For advice on using the subway and buses, see our post on How to get around New York). Click on this Google Map link providing directions to Delacorte Theater from anywhere in the city.
No large bags/backpacks allowed: Anything you bring with you must fit under your seat, which is fairly small. If you have large backpacks, shopping bags or anything other than a small purse or very small backpack, you can store it for a few hours at very cheap rates. See our post on Where to Store Luggage in NYC.
Food and drink: You can bring food and drinks into the theater with you, as long as nothing is in a glass container.
Bathrooms: There are decent bathrooms available at the Delacorte Theater.
Rain or Shine the show must go on! Performances are never canceled for weather before 8 pm when the show starts. If the weather is bad there will be a delay of the start. If the weather continues they will cancel the performance. If a performance is canceled due to weather you do not receive a ticket for another day. Make sure you check the forecast before you go wait in line! Click on the links to get weather information for June, July, and August.
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.
Download the TodayTix app in the App Store or Google Play Store.Mobile entries require iOS 7.0 or later on iPhone, iPad, and iPad Touch; or Android 2.3 or later on Android and Kindle devices.
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.
2) WAIT IN LINE AT THE DELACORTE THEATER
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:
The line officially begins at 6:00 am when the park opens. Do not try to enter Central Park before this time- the area is patrolled.
The theater begins disbursing tickets at 12:00 pm (noon) for that night’s performance only.
Each person in line can get 2 tickets. They are for that night only-there are no exchanges for other days.
Children under 5 do not need a ticket. They can sit on parents’ laps.
The line for tickets starts at 81st Street and Central Park West (red arrow on map). The closest subways are the B or C subway to 81st Street. (For advice on using the subway and buses, see our post on How to get around New York).
Click on this Google Map link providing directions to Delacorte Theatre and ticket line from anywhere in New York City.
Advice and survival tips for the waiting on the ticket line
Though some people get in line as early as 6 am, you can often get tickets by getting in line at 8 or 9 am. (If a major celebrity is in the show, the earlier you get in line, the better). The line can often look quite long but remember that there are 1800 seats in the theater. So chances aren’t that bad if you get online early.
Increase the odds of getting tickets if you can try for tickets during the first week of performances when there is less of a demand for seats since people wait for reviews to come out before deciding to make the commitment to wait on line.
Be willing to attend a show on a rainy day. The Public Theater does not cancel shows even in the rain, but many people won’t bother to come out to get tickets increasing your chances. Open umbrellas are not permitted during the performance, so be sure to bring a poncho.
There are benches in some spots in line, but there is no way of knowing where you will be. It is best to bring a blanket to sit on.
The wait can be long (6 hours if you get in line first!). Bring snacks, drinks, and something to do while you sit there.
Technically, you are not supposed to get out of the line or take turns waiting with your family and friends. You can always leave for quick restroom breaks and such but chat with the people in front of and behind you in line so that they can save your spot. Try to make your trips away from the line as brief as possible-it isn’t the best time for a stroll around the park.
3) IN-PERSON LOTTERY AT THE PUBLIC THEATER
This is a long shot but if you are down in the area of Greenwich Village walk by the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place and get a voucher at 11:30 am on the day of a performance.
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.
4) TICKET DISTRIBUTIONS IN THE OUTER BOROUGHS
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!
5) STANDBY TICKETS
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.