Watching a performance at an open-air theater means peak outdoor season has arrived - and NYC is absolutely the city for it. If you’re interested in taking in some outdoor shows this summer, read on for the absolute best open-air theaters and entertainment options in NYC.
[10 Things to Do this Spring in NYC]
1. ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ at Delacorte Theater in Central Park
Just off 80th Street on the southwest corner of Central Park’s Great Lawn, the Delacorte Theater is one of the most famous theaters in New York and the place to see The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park, a cherished NYC tradition. Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, the popular open-air theater has hosted millions of spectators and Hollywood A-List actors like James Earl Jones in Othello, Meryl Streep in The Taming of the Shrew, and Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice.
Central Park’s Great Lawn also presents the New York Philharmonic Concert in Central Park, a world-renowned NYC tradition that has taken place annually for over five decades.
2. ‘Summer for the City’ at Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center holds year-round programming (music, ballet, theater, opera, and more), but the iconic performing arts venue also throws the ultimate annual outdoor festival - the two-month-long Summer for the City. See hundreds of free events at places like the bandshell at Damrosch Park, The Garden, Hearst Plaza, The Underground at Jaffe Drive, The Reading Room, and The Dance Floor, the city’s largest outdoor dance floor with a mega 10-foot disco ball.
3. Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Harlem
Surrounded by towering green foliage, the bandshell and open-air theater in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem is a beloved community gathering place for music, dance, celebrations, and ceremonies. The 1,600-seat outdoor venue hosts a multitude of summer events, including SummerStage (more on that below).
4. ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’ on the Lower East Side
The Drilling Company is the second-largest free Shakespeare producer in the city, but instead of presenting The Bard’s productions in a traditional park setting, they’re sticking to the parking lot (behind the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center to be exact). Their Lower East Side parking lot performances are a blast, and their outdoor stagings have been a NYC institution for a quarter of a century. Presented with a “poor theater” aesthetic, the productions are often adaptations of the classics, which only makes them more memorable.
5. Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at Riverside Park
The temple-like marble monument capped with carved eagles and cartouches beautifully commemorates Union Army soldiers and sailors, but it also serves as the stunning backdrop for The Hudson Classical Theater Company. See their website for upcoming performances at what L Magazine named the “Best Outdoor Theater in NYC.”
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6. The Amph and The Glade on Little Island
NYC’s newest public park on the Hudson River has a 687-seat amphitheater (The Amph) and an intimate stage and lawn (The Glade) with free programming every summer. From intimate performances from Tony and Grammy Award-winners, to late night DJs, drag bingo, dance parties, and workshops, Little Island is a great outdoor entertainment option for the whole family.
7. ‘SummerStage’ at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park
The outdoor performing arts festival that is SummerStage is made up of more than 80 free performances in 13 parks across the five boroughs, but Rumsey Playfield in Central Park sees the most action. The spacious playfield with an outdoor amphitheater is SummerStage’s flagship venue, but you can also catch concerts at venues like Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, Von King Park and The Coney Island Amphitheater in Brooklyn, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, Crotona Park in the Bronx, and Stapleton Waterfront Park in Staten Island.
8. New York Classical Theatre
The New York Classical Theatre company has presented more than 700 free outdoor “immersive theatrical experiences” of classical works by famous playwrights in public places like Central Park, Prospect Park, The Battery, Rockefeller Park, and Governors Island. What sets these performances apart is that audience members are encouraged to follow the actors throughout the venue, thus entering the world of the play and becoming participants in the story unfolding around them.
9. Broadway in Bryant Park
The most popular shows on and off-Broadway perform their biggest hits for free every Thursday afternoon in August on the lawn of Bryant Park. The lunchtime performances have included Moulin Rouge! The Musical, and Broadway fan favorites like The Phantom of the Opera, Come From Away, and Hadestown.
10. Battery Dance Festival
NYC’s longest-running free public dance festival draws a combined audience of 12,000 in-person and 35,000 virtual viewers each August. The Wagner Park festival features both local and international pre-eminent dance companies as they present original works against the breathtaking backdrop of the New York Harbor.
[For open-air cinema in NYC, check out all the free movies happening across the five boroughs]
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