Even 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.
Begun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This is the 20th annual Summerworks. @ 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
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
New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Twitter: @
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: @
Twitter: @newohiotheatre This year it’s June 24 to August 8, but they haven’t listed the offerings as of this writing.
Theater pieces that lie at the intersection of video gaming and performance. Twitter: @bricktheater . This year, July 10 to July 25.
NYC celebration of queer culture. At Dixon Place, July 7 to August 5. @ 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.
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.
Some 300 new musicals have premiered at this festival since 2004, including “Next to Normal,” “Altar Boyz” and “title of show” Twitter: @nymf
A preview of American productions that will be presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at 59E59 Theaters. Twitter: @59E59
celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @