Summer in the city offers theater that is cheaper (often free), more cutting-edge and even more abundant than what you can see during the regular theater season — thanks largely to the perennial summer theater festivals. The shows are not necessarily better, of course, and finding the right ones for you can be intimidating, especially among the bigger festivals.
This is the sixth year I’m offering a run-down on New York’s most reliable summer theater festivals (2012, 2013, 2014 2015 and 2016). 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’s Summerworks
Begun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This is the 22nd annual Summerworks. @ClubbedThumb
The World My Mama Raised writtenby Ariel Stess, directed by Kip Fagan May 20 – May 30
Of Government, written by Alex Borinsky, directed by Jeremy Bloom June 5 – June 15
What The Constitution Means to Me, written by Heidi Schreck directed by Oliver Butler, June 21 – July 1
The New York Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park
Joseph Papp began Free Shakespeare in the Park in 1962 in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, which was built for that purpose. The two-play summer season usually only offers Shakespeare, but occasionally there will be a Sondheim or other modern classic.
Julius Caesar, directed by Oscar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, with a large cast that includes Nikki M. James,, Elizabeth Marvel, Corey Stoll and John Douglas Thompson May 23 to June 18.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream directed by by Lear deBessone, with a large cast that includes Annaleigh Ashford, De’Adre Aziza, Kyle Beltran, Danny Burstein, July 11 to August 18
Started by Ars Nova (most celebrated recently for originating Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Ant Fest is, according to the organizers, “four non-stop, throw-down weeks of live entertainment mayhem, featuring fresh material from the next wave of dynamic, indie-theater makers. All New Talent, all the time.” June 5 to 29. 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 14 to July 9.
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.
Of particular interest this year: HARBORED, En Garde Arts’ new site-specific theatrical experience about immigration, featuring a cast of more than 50 performers. Immigration stories will also be gathered each day from passersby and incorporated into the script that night. June 22 to June 25, Winter Garden.
A MARVELOUS ORDER, a multimedia opera about the battle between city planning czar Robert Moses and civic reformer Jane Jacobs.
Twitter: used to be @R2RFestival, now their parent org, @LMCC with hashtag R2R15!. This year’s festival runs from June 14 to June 25.
Ice Factory Festival
Twitter: @newohiotheatre This year the festival at New Ohio Theater runs from June 28 to August 12. Among the seven offerings are True Right, “A reimagining of Sam Shepard’s True West–featuring George and Jeb Bush, as played by two ethnic ladies”
The festival is billed as the longest-running LGBTQ festival in the world, now in its 26th year celebrating queer culture. At Dixon Place, July 5 to July 29. @HotFestNYC. or @DixonPlace . This year, trans Sri-Lankan American comic D’Lo headlines the festival in “To T, or Not to T.”
Lincoln Center Festival
This is not exclusively a theater festival, but always includes a couple of theater pieces, most often from overseas.
July 10 to July 30. Twitter: @LincolnCenter
There are five offerings explicitly labeled theater this summer:
Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Improbable Theatre
While I Was Waiting by Mohammad Al Attar, portrait of Syria through one family. July 19–22
Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination,Text by Amos Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme. July 19
Il N’est Pas Encore Minuit, by Compagnie XY July 19-22
New York Musical Festival
Some 300 new musicals have premiered at this festival (originally named the New York Musical Theater Festival) since 2004, including “Next to Normal,” “Altar Boyz” and “title of show”
This year’s festival runs July 10 to August 6, and features 22 full productions, as well as almost as many concerts and readings.
Fresh Fruit Festival
Celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @FreshFruitFest July 10-23
Midtown International Theater Festival
Twitter: @NYMITF July 15 to August 6.
Dream Up Festival
Twitter: @TNCinNYC. August 27 – September 17 at Theater for a New Audience.
New York International Fringe Festival
The New York International Fringe Festival is celebrating its 21st year — by taking a hiatus. That’s right — there’s no New York Fringe this summer. @FringeNYC Those of us who stay in New York every August in part to attend the Fringe may be looking for summer theater festivals outside NYC, (15 specific to the US in 2017)