15 Summer Theater Festivals in New York City 2015

NYCSummerFestivals2015Even New Yorkers who abandon the city for the summer know of the three most celebrated summer theater festivals:

Free Shakespeare in the Park, begun by Joseph Papp in 1962 in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater which was built for that purpose. This usually has two plays by Shakespeare, but occasionally there will be a Sondheim or other modern classic.

Lincoln Center Festival is not exclusively a theater festival, but always includes a couple of theater pieces, most often from overseas.

The New York International Fringe Festival, with some 200 plays, musicals and experimental works, half of which seem to be trying to repeat the success of Urinetown, which became a hit on Broadway.

But there are many other theater festivals in New York during the summer – so many that there is arguably more theater to see during the “off season” than during the regular theater season, and it is often cheaper (even free), and frequently cutting-edge.

Not all of it is worth seeing, of course, and among the bigger festivals it can be intimidating to choose, although that’s also part of the fun. (Tip: Talk to people on the lines.)

This is the fourth year I’m offering a run-down on New York’s most reliable summer theater festivals (2012,  2013 and 2014). Below is a list arranged more or less chronologically by the month in which the festival begins. (Several continue through the summer.)  Click on the festival titles below to be taken to their websites. It’s a good idea to check out their Twitter feeds as well.


Clubbed Thumb 

Begun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This is the 20th annual Summerworks. @ClubbedThumb D DEB DEBBIE DEBORAH by Jerry Lieblich, May 20 to 30. CARD AND GIFT by Kate E. Ryan, June 4 to 14. MEN ON BOATS by Jaclyn Backhaus, June 19 – 29


Ant Fest 

Started by Ars Nova (most celebrated recently for originating Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Ant Fest is a grab-bag of delights.  June 1 to 26. Twitter: @arsnova

The New York Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park

Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY THE TEMPEST starring Sam Waterston and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, May 27 to July 5 CYMBELINE,  starring Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, July 23 to August 23

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Twitter: @PCTFNYC

River to River Festival

Held in the downtown business district, this festival has only a handful of what can be called strictly theater pieces, but the hybrids are worth exploring, and all events are free. Twitter: @R2RFestival

Ice Factory Festival

Twitter: @newohiotheatre This year it’s June 24 to August 8, but they haven’t listed the offerings as of this writing.


Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival 

Theater pieces that lie at the intersection of video gaming and performance.  Twitter: @bricktheater . This year, July 10 to July 25.

Hot Festival 

NYC celebration of queer culture. At Dixon Place, July 7 to August 5.  @HotFestNYC My favorite title in this year’s offerings:  Michael Jackson Was Innocent and I Didn’t Kill Jonbenet Ramsay, But I Was There The Night She Died, by Michael Cross Burke.

Lincoln Center Festival 

July 6 to August 2. Twitter: @LincolnCenter 

Among the theater offerings this summer:

DruidShakespeare: The History Plays Mark O’Rowe distills Richard II, Henry IVparts I and II, and Henry V into a single narrative, directed by Garry Hynes.

Miss Julie In this edgy staging set in present-day Russia, Strindberg’s ground-breaking “modern woman” blooms in the hands of renowned director Thomas Ostermeier.

Ramona A tragic tale of two trains in love conceived by Rezo Gabriadze, who marries humor and heartbreak in a world of marionettes.

Ubu Roi Cheek by Jowl Director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod return with their company to bring an ingeniously re-imagined version of Alfred Jarry’s absurdist play.

New York Musical Theater Festival

Some 300 new musicals have premiered at this festival since 2004, including “Next to Normal,” “Altar Boyz” and “title of show” Twitter: @nymf

East to Edinburgh Festival

A preview of American productions that will be presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at 59E59 Theaters. Twitter: @59E59 

Fresh Fruit Festival

celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @FreshFruitFest

Midtown International Theater Festival

Twitter: @NYMITF


New York International Fringe Festival

August 14 to 30. Twitter: @FringeNYC They’re whetting our appetite with a page full of this year’s show titles.

Dream Up Festival

Twitter: @TNCinNYC 

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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