The Cost of Free Shakespeare

Summer in New York City brings a number of great traditions that citizens can always get excited for: The Museum Mile Festival, Gay Pride Week, and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. However, one of the most famed traditions, which offers both pleasure and pain, is Shakespeare in the Park. Pleasure for the expertly crafted performances given for free that rank among the best Shakespeare in the world; pain for the long-hailed tradition of waiting countless hours in the sun to get the tickets.

Courtesy of The Public Theater

Nothing in life is ever truly free, and Shakespeare in the Park reinforces the trite saying. While New Yorkers of past summers have seen performances of Hamlet (with Michael Stuhlbarg from A Serious Man) and Twelfth Night (with Anne Hathaway), getting tickets to such performances is not as easy as it seems. And with this year’s two highly anticipated productions—The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice (with Al Pacino as Shylock)—acquiring those tickets is harder than ever.

Here’s how it works: The Public Theater gives out tickets at 1pm for a performance at 8pm. Each person gets two tickets. While the Delacorte Theater, snuggled in the middle of Central Park, has 1,800 seats, showing up a couple hours beforehand is not going to cut it. Firstly, more than 800 seats vanish each night, given to “Summer Supporters,” members who donate $350 in exchange for two seats. Secondly, when you have a city and surrounding neighborhood that adds up to around 25 million people, you are likely to find 500 people that will give up a day of work for free Shakespeare. Thus, lines can begin early in the morning—very early—sometimes while the performance from the previous night is still finishing up. Since Central Park opens at 6am, eager viewers have to line up at 81st outside the park, passing the time anyway they can. And don’t think about joining a friend at 12:30pm or so—the line is heavily policed, not only by the fellow line waiters, but by the official line monitors that carry truncheons.

Courtesy of The Public Theater

So what’s it like waiting for these lines? If sleeping along Central Park for Shakespeare isn’t the quintessential New York experience, then what is? We here at CUarts know that undoubtedly the performances will be amazing. We’re more interested in the experience of waiting twelve hours for two of these lucky tickets. What kind of people are there? How do they pass the time? And is it all really worth it.

Well, starting tonight, I will learn first hand what it is like to wait twelve hours to see Al Pacino perform as Shylock, that is, if I can survive the insanity. Tune in starting at 1AM tonight for a LiveBlog of the line for Shakespeare in the Park, complete with photos, interviews, and more.

Note: According to the forecast, there is some rain expected for tomorrow. The current outlook is not as expected, but the hope is that the rain will be gone by the performance, and the rain during the day not as bad as one would hope. If a rainout is expected, the LiveBlog will be pushed to an unannounced date later this month. Look for an announcement at Midnight tonight.


Peter Labuza, CC’11

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One Response to The Cost of Free Shakespeare

  1. Pingback: Shakespeare in the Park Line LiveBlog! « CUarts Blog

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