Outdoor theater is exploding this summer, with the continuation of New York State’s NYPopsUp and New York City’s Open Culture street performances, with the opening of Little Island park at Pier 55, and Lincoln Center’s Restart Stages offering productions on its campus through August. All of these, remarkably, are new. And then there are all the one-off, on-site outdoor plays, such as Intar’s MicroTEATRO and Teutonic’s Seven Deadly Sins. So, what about the dozen annual summer theater festivals? Most of them were canceled last summer; a few were reimagined online. New York City’s summer theater festivals are back — some still online, some in-person indoors, some outdoors. Not all have returned; for some, their exit was permanent. Others may be announcing their schedule later this summer (in keeping with the last-minute scheduling that the pandemic has forced on many theaters.)
River to River Festival
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. Begun in the aftermath of 9/11, it seems apt that the 20th edition is one of the first summer theater festivals to reopen.
The 13th annual festival from Arts Nova features 12 shows premiering on the theater’s new streaming platform Ars Nova Supra.
Ice Factory Festival
June 30 – August 14
The 28th annual edition of New Ohio Theater’s Obie Award-winning summer festival is presenting eight new works, including “a bike tour, reclaiming lost AAPI legacies through tap and spoken word, an immersive experience about isolation, dance that celebrates Black joy, a Narco-Acid Western set in the Borderlands, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s women from a female perspective, a musical about a Mad King with integrated ASL, and a sound installation about gratitude.”
New York Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park
July 6 – September 18
Joseph Papp began Free Shakespeare in the Park in 1962 in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, which was built for that purpose. Usually presenting two plays, and a third over Labor Day weekend, the Public Theater shut down the Delacorte in 2020. This year it’s presenting one show all summer
“Merry Wives,”, an adaptation by Jocelyn Bioh of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Saheem Ali, and set in South Harlem, amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants.
July 27 – August 8
The festival went virtual last year. Of last year’s digitally-presented shows, six will return to premiere onstage this summer: Intentions by Allison Svagdis, Pouf! by Lou Clyde, Over Easy by Abaigeal O’Donnell, Start Up by Larissa Kruesi, Scar Tissue by Victoria Fragnito, and a musical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Annie Dillon and Sam Caps. The Festival will also present three new plays: girl power sex positive joy ride by Zoe Kamil, Plague Doctor! by Charlotte Ahlin, and Dipped in Honey by Cristina Martinez,
TNC’s Street Theater Summer Tour
July 31 – September 12
As they’ve been doing for three decades, Theater for the New City is touring with a new political, musical play to parks and streets throughout the city. This play, entitled “Critical Care, or Rehearsing for a Nurse,” focuses on a woman who is studying to be a nurse and working in a nursing home, when COVID attacks. She begins to fight, “to help to save her city and her own future as a pediatric nurse.”