13 Summer Theater Festivals in New York City 2016

summerfestivals2016There are so many theater festivals in New York during the summer  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 fifth year I’m offering a run-down on New York’s most reliable summer theater festivals (2012,  20132014 and 2015). 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.


The New York Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park


Free Shakespeare in the Park was 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.

Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

The Taming of the Shrew,  directed by Phyllida Lloyd with an all-female cast featuring LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cush Jumbo, and Janet Mcteer, May 24 to June 26.

Troilus and Cressida,  directed by Daniel Sullivan. July 19 to August 14

Clubbed Thumb

kingtotBegun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This is the 21st annual Summerworks. @ClubbedThumb

Julia Jarcho’s dark spy thriller Every Angel Is Brutal, May 27 – June 6

Eric Dufault’s comic-strip–themed The Tomb of King Tot , June 11 – June 21

A Western musical comedy from Ethan Lipton called Tumacho, June 27 to July 9.


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 6 to 30. Twitter: @arsnova

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Twitter: @PCTFNYC. This year’s festival runs from June 15 to July 10.

Most of the shows benefit specific charities. For example, The Chaplin Plays by Don Nigro benefit The Trevor Project.


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. This year’s festival runs from June 16 to June 26.

Ice Factory Festival

Twitter: @newohiotheatre This year it’s June 29 to August 13. Among the seven offerings are The Annotated History of the American Muskrat, and Our Voices Project, by Charles Mee, an investigation of James Castle, who never learned to read, write, speak or sign (he was deaf), but created 20,000 works of art.


Hot Festival 

The festival marks its 25th anniversary celebrating NYC queer culture. At Dixon Place, July 7 to August 5.  @HotFestNYC. The centerpiece of this year’s festival is HYPERBOLIC! (The Last Spectacle) by Monstah Black, which uses music, dance, theater & fashion to imagine the last party on earth.

Lincoln Center Festival 

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

July 13 to July 31. Twitter: @LincolnCenter 

Among the theater offerings this summer:

Kanze Noh Theater –  “five different Noh dramas selected from the repertoire of approximately 240, as well as two Kyogen, the customary comic interlude in a Noh program.”

Chicago, the Kander and Ebb musical, performed in Japanese by the all-female Takarazuka Revue

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Moliere, performed by Paris’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

The Merchant of Venice,  the Shakespeare’s Globe production, with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock


Golem, by the British theater company called 1927

FringenycpostersNew 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 This year’s festival runs July 11 to August 7

 Fresh Fruit Festival

celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @FreshFruitFest July 11-24

Midtown International Theater Festival

Twitter: @NYMITF


New York International Fringe Festival

The New York International Fringe Festival offers 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.

August 12 to 28. Twitter: @FringeNYC  This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the festival

Dream Up Festival

Twitter: @TNCinNYCAugust 28 – September 18 at Theater for a New Audience.

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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