Thursday, July 12, 2007

New York on the Cheap: Shakespeare in the Park

If there is one thing I know, it is how to live cheap in New York--especially in the summer, which, as it happens, is when most tourists visit New York. So we can call this frugal New York tourism, but if you're a native, don't be shy about picking something up (or about correcting me!).

So here's the first tip: Shakespeare in the Park!

The Public Theater puts up two plays a year at the Delacorte Theater (enter at 79th on the East Side or 81st on the West--the latter is easier), and tickets are free, with one caveat: you have to wait in line to get them. Tickets are distributed at 1 PM, but you need to be there way before that, so you'll spend a chunk of time sitting in line.

This one's pretty well-known by New Yorkers, but plenty of people don't know how it really needs to be done.

There's a very, very easy way of determining when you need to arrive to get tickets: go by at noon on a comparable day (i.e. a weekend if you want to go on a weekend, the day before if you want to go on a weekday) and ask people when they arrived. Do not ask the first person in line; he/she will almost always say something ridiculous like, "Well, I got here at three a.m. and waited on Central Park West until five when the park police wouldn't shoo me away..." No. Don't go there. Ask someone at a reasonable place in line, 50-200 people back (depending on how intent you are on good seats), and take their answer as your arrival time. (Last Sunday, a friend and K and I had to show up at ten to six--yes, A.M.!)

Pack food. There's a deli that will deliver to the line, but they're slow, inefficient, and, you know, not the cheapest option around. I'd recommend bringing a sandwich (or alternate actual meal item), some easily packable snacks that don't need to be super-cold, a thermos of iced coffee (or whatever you prefer), and a bottle of water (freeze it overnight for a combination cold drink/ice pack). Even for those of you who don't have home refrigerators in New York, stocking up at a grocery store will prove cheaper and more convenient than ordering.

Also bring: sunscreen, sunglasses, a blanket (a cushion to sit on would be nice, too--you don't usually get the grassiest of spots), and entertainment (a book works, but a board game is even better).

At nine or ten, Delacorte employees will tell you to go home if you have no chance of getting tickets, but if you time your arrival properly, this shouldn't be an issue. Instead, they'll tell you that your chances are good, that you can't leave the line (hence the importance of the packing!), and that you can request two tickets for every one person on line.

You get your free tickets, you go home to nap, and you return at 7:30 for an 8:00 show.

The last performance of Romeo and Juliet was Sunday (and I'm so glad I caught it). A Midsummer Night's Dream runs August 7 to September 9, and I encourage you to go. It's a fun, frugal, and characteristically New York way to spend a day.


Lindsay said...

that's so cool you got to see romeo and juliet. my friend, oscar, plays romeo, and i'm sorry i didn't make it up there to see it!

English Major said...

Heh—my friend Alex was in the ensemble, but it's hardly the same thing.

Congratulate Oscar on his performance on my behalf—I thought he was great. I know a lot of the discussion has centered on Lauren Ambrose (partially because she's fantastic), but his performance deserves praise, too.

gaga said...

You should mention the actors who appear in these productions. This is not community theatre. This is highly regarded resume stuff and even non theatre people would be impressed at the cast list!

Michelle said...

tickets are also handed out at the public theater in soho (425 Lafayette) on the day of the performance (between 1-3pm). the lines aren't as bad as in central park.

if you're interested, I run a blog and calendar where I highlight mostly free and cheap cultural and literary events--New York Brain Terrain (

SF Money Musings said...

there's also tons of free music during the summer.

There's the Village Voice Siren Music Festival and Battery Park just had the New Pornographers on July 4th.

Bryant Park's free movies in the park was one of my favorite things to do. And Shakespeare in the Park - awesome stuff. There were also free art classes my roommate took at Battery Park.

But NYC's music scene is incredible - all the free music in the summer. There were shows at the Chelsea Pier when I lived there in '03. I can't believe Spoon did a free instore at Virgin Megastore.

Addy said...

One of my coworkers just saw this show and was raving about it. When reading your post, I was having my doubts about spending all day waiting for tickets, then I realized I did just that when I bought my standing room tickets for The Producers. I'll definitely check out Shakespeare in the Park next time I'm in NYC in the summer.

story girl said...

I LOVE Shakespeare in the Park. When I lived in Jersey, I went up with a bunch of college friends. We got there at noon on a Saturday, and they kept telling us they didn't know how far back in line the tickets would go, and that we shouldn't count on it, but as it turns out we did and each got two tickets so our lazy friends who didn't get there until 2 could come too. It was about 110 degrees out that day, and going home in between would have been impractical (45 minute train ride each way), so a few of our friends ended up getting sick from the heat and not staying . . . boy did the people in the rush line love us when we showed up with a handful of tickets to return just as they ran out!