12 Summer Theater Festivals in New York City 2018

Summer has begun in the city, theatrically speaking, with the first of the summer theater festivals. These festivals present  shows that are cheaper (often free), more cutting-edge and more abundant than what you can see during the regular theater season.  They also present a greater challenge in choosing which of their shows to see.

In this, the seventh year I’m offering a run-down on New York’s most reliable summer theater festivals, there are two big changes.  Lincoln Center has killed its Lincoln Center Festival, and the Fringe Festival has moved to October.

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. Keep in mind that some of the festivals are still putting together their programming.


Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks


Begun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This  is the 23rd annual Summerworks. @ClubbedThumb

May 19-May 29

Blessed with the can-do American spirit, a troop of dedicated shoe store workers embarks on a madcap odyssey of personal (employer-mandated) expansion.

Wilder Gone, written by Angela Hanks, directed by Margot Bordelon

June 4 – June 14

Mabel, Thalia and Peanut Brittle have ambitions (some of a spiritual nature), a few secrets, and some unfinished business. Whose vision, for the land uncultivated, will prevail?

Plano, written by Will Arbery, directed by Taylor Reynolds

June 20 – June 30

Tonight, and later, and earlier, three sisters (no, not those ones) are stricken with a series of strange plagues. Let’s talk about family nightmares. I mean, uh, memories.

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.

Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Othello,   directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, with Chukwudi Iwuji as Othello, Corey Stoll as Iago, and Heather Lind as Desdemona. May 29 to June 24.

Twelfth Night, a musical adaptation Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, with music and lyrics by Taub, directed by Oscar Eustis and Kewi-Armah, starring Nikki M. James as Viola. July 17 to August 19


Ant Fest


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 4 to 28. Twitter: @arsnova

Among the 28 shows this year: “A Doll’s House Part 3,” and “I, I Am A Dancer”  described as a reimagined “A Chorus Line” (reimagined as a reality TV show competition.)

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.This year’s festival runs from June 15 to June 24.

Of particular interest this year:

Naamah’s Ark, MasterVoices’ dramatic oratorio telling the story of Noah’s Ark from the perspective of Noah’s wife

, a live performance by Cori Olinghouse set in an American landscape of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, excavates the effects of television, the media, and dark familial pasts.

Ice Factory Festival

Twitter: @newohiotheatre The 25th anniversary of this Obie-winning festival is
scheduled to run from June 27th to August 11.

 They plan to present eight shows, including Numbness by One Eighth Theater (“Imagine a world in such chaos there is nothing left to feel”); One Small Step by the St. Fortune Collective (an alternative history to the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon Landing); Dear Diary LOL by Antigravity Performance Project (“a comedic theatre work born verbatim from the real-life tween-teen early-2000s diaries of the show’s actual creators”); and Madame Lynch by The Drunkard’s Wife (“a new spectacle with music that takes its jumping-off point from the story of Eliza Lynch, an Irish prostitute, who through fate and machination became de facto Empress of Paraguay in the mid-19thcentury.”)



Hot Festival 

Billed as the longest-running LGBTQ festival in the world,  it is now in its 27th year celebrating queer culture. It will run at Dixon Place, July 2 to July 25, and feature 22 shows, including “My Marlene,” a one-woman show about Marlene Dietrich.

@HotFestNYC. or @DixonPlace .



Now in its third year, the She NYC Summer Theater Festival will run July 5-15th, 2018, in the Connelly Theater, offering eight shows, all written by women, including  The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends , a musical about taking monster men to the prom.


Planet Connections Theatre Festivity


New York’s eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Twitter: @PCTFNYC. This year’s festival runs from July 9 to August 5, and features 36 productions and 14 readings.


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”

Twitter: @nymf

This year’s festival runs July 9 to August 5, and features a dozen full productions — including “Emojiland,”  which “explores the interconnected lives of two dozen emojis whose existence inside a smartphone becomes increasingly complicated after a software update.” There are also ten staged readings and five concerts.

Corkscrew Festival

In its second year, the festival will present five productions and four readings by “early-career artists” from July 9 to August 5th at Paradise Factory.


 Fresh Fruit Festival

Celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @FreshFruitFest July 9-22



Dream Up Festival

Twitter: @TNCinNYCAugust 27 – September 17 at Theater for the New City. The submission deadline ended the first week in May, so expect the announcement of this year’s line-up soon..


Here are 15 summer theater festivals, all but two of them outside New York City.



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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