Summertime is a good time for the adventurous New York theatergoer, and the broke New York theatergoer. Summer theater festivals present shows that are usually cheaper (often free), and more cutting-edge than standard fare during the regular theater season. It can also be a challenge to navigate through some of the larger festivals
Below is a list of a baker’s dozen of New York summer theater (or arts) festivals arranged more or less chronologically by the month in which each begins. (Several continue through the summer.) Some of these festivals have been around for decades; one debuts this year! A couple of long-time favorites no longer exist, at least not during the summer months (The New York International Fringe Festival moved to October.)
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 24th annual Summerworks. @
written by Sarah Einspanier
directed by Tara Ahmadinejad
May 17 – May 28, 2019
Seven public defenders on a quest for crumbs of joy.
written by Zhu Yi
directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
June 3 – June 13, 2019
The Lis, the Zhaos, the ghosts and the animals engage in a land feud.
written by Daniel Glenn
directed by Caitlin Ryan O’Connellv
June 19 – June 29, 2019
The councilmen of Plymouth Colony determine how to be Good in the New World.
May 18 – May 20
The first-ever festival in Prospect Park of the work of the 17th century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Moliere. Why Moliere? “In style and content, Molière’s plays capture Brooklyn: funny, gritty, progressive, disruptive, and embracing of all types of people.” For the first annual festival will present a translation by former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur of “The Misanthrope,” with music by Stew. The first night is a fundraiser. The last two nights are free.
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 something modern — Hair in 2008, Sondheim’s Into The Woods in 2012. This year’s adaptation of a Disney animated movie is unusual.
Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenny Leon, featuring Danielle Brooks and Chuck Cooper, May 21 – June 23.
Coriolanus, directed by Daniel Sullivan, July 16 to August 11.
Hercules, directed by Lear deBessonet, is an adaptation of the Disney animated film, with the film’s score, plus additional original songs by the film’s composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel, a new book by Kristoffer Diaz and choreography by Chase Brock. August 31 to September 8.
The 24th annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts is a marathon three days of free Theater, Music, Dance, Comedy, Performance Art, Poetry, Film and Fine Arts in and around the Theater for a New City, May 24-26.
Started by Ars Nova (most celebrated recently for originating Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Ant Fest offers one new show a day for four weeks, 28 in all. The acclaimed shows Rags Parkland and Underground Railroad Game both began at Ant Fest. June 3 to 27. Twitter: @
The first show of the 12th annual festival, on June 3rd, will be A People’s History of Silicon Valley, described as “a synth-pop send-up of techno-utopianism and startup bros.”
The festival will feature the ANT Fest Lounge Series — “intimate, pop-up encounters with ANT Fest Alums, debuting fresh ideas and new sounds”:Michelle J. Rodriguez (June 7), Deepali Gupta (June 12), Jillian Walker (June 18) and Starr Busby & Jerome Ellis (June 24).
Held in parks, public plazas, office buildings, piers and streets throughout 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. The 18th annual festival runs from June 18 to June 29.
This year’s offerings, the first to be curated by first to be curated by Lili Chopra, generally reflect an avant-garde performance art aesthetic. Yoko Ono is the most prominent participant.
The fourth annual She NYC Summer Theater Festival, which will run June 19-30 in the Connelly Theater, presents eight plays and musicals, all written by women playwrights and composers, including Beautiful Pasadena, the story of a marriage in crisis at the start of the economic collapse in 2008; Dancing Girl, a retelling of Victor Hugo’s “Notre-Dame de Paris,” and Exposed, about a college freshman who moonlights in adult films to pay for her tuition and is forced to defend her choice when her secret is discovered.
OUTSIDE OF EDEN – Created by Byzantine Choral Project. An explosive mix of opera and theater about the Byzantine Empresses that explores the relentless drive to tragedy in female stories. June 26-29
THE DRINKING BIRD – Limited Liability Theater Company. A group of actors delves into a dialectical exchange about Universal Basic Income, the Green New Deal, and the American economy. July 3 – 6
SONGS ABOUT TRAINS – Created by Radical Evolution. A multiracial cohort of artists collaboratively explore the multiethnic history of the laborers who built the US Rail system. July 10 – 13
SEX PLAY – Written by Charly Evon Simpson, developed by The Pack Theater & directed by Jenny Reed. A lyrical, playfully candid meditation on the nature of human intimacy. July 17 – 20
JUDY DOOMED US ALL – Rat Queen Theatre Co. Nancy Reagan and her speechwriter get trapped in an unsavory town in a gritty Americana musical wrapped in tumbleweed.July 24 – 27
LORDES – Written by Gethsemane Herron-Coward & directed by Katherine Wilkinson. Writer, activist, Black, lesbian, poet, warrior. An ensemble of women celebrates Audre Lorde’s legacy.July 31 – August 3
RAW PASTA – Written by Maya Macdonald & directed by Jaclyn Biskup of The Mill. In a weeklong “Facing Toxic Masculinity” intensive Sam is desperate to come out of it as less of a douchebag. August 7 – 10
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 8 to August 4, and features ten full productions, including Till, a musical telling the true story of Mamie Till and her son Emmett, a black teenager who in 1955 was murdered for looking at a white girl. There are also ten staged readings and six concerts.
In its third year, the festival will present eight productions and four (free) staged readings by “early-career artists” from July 10th to August 3rd at Paradise Factory. Among the productions are four workshops riffing on well-known works of art or artists — “A Doll’s House: A New Opera”;
“Hootenanny Twelfth Night”; “Walt Whitman BodyJolt™” (“an audience participatory exercise class led by Walt Whitman”); and “Stone” (“a collaborative play inspired by Leslie Feinberg’s novel Stone Butch Blues”)
The 17th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ Arts, held July 8 through 21 at The WILD Project and other Manhattan venues. . Twitter: @
Billed as the longest-running LGBTQ festival in the world, this celebration of queer culture features 48 shows at Dixon Place, beginning with a free sampling of festivals offerings on July 2, then going from “Very High, Underground” on July 3 (“After falling into a TV wormhole two teens go on a drug fueled odyssey.”) to “The Village, or A Fag, a Hag, a Drag, a Hustler, a Junkie, a John and Jew Walk into a Bar” on July 31 (“A staged reading of a comic play with music, dance and go-go boys.”) Of particular note, Marga Gomez’s 13th solo piece, Spanking Machine (July 11-13)
The tenth annual festival will take place August 25 – September 15 at Theater for the New City. ..Twitter: @TNCinNYC.