60 years ago, New York theatre icon Joseph Papp (founder of the legendary Public Theater) decided that he wanted to make top of the line classical theatre to the masses of New York City, and almost immediately, Shakespeare in the Park was born. The summer long Shakespeare festival bounced around venue to venue, performing in fields, by ponds, and even on the steps of Belvedere Castle, until a lawsuit between Papp and the Parks Commissioner resulted in the 1962 construction of the Delacorte Theatre. Since then, the Public Theater has had exclusive rights to the use of the theatre.
Since it’s opening over 50 years ago, Shakespeare in the Park has strived to provide free entertainment to anyone who wanted to enjoy classic (almost always Shakespearean) theatre. Tickets are only distributed on the day of the performance, the majority of which are distributed in person at 12pm to theatre-goers who have spent hours sitting (and often, sleeping) in line from the park’s opening at 6am. During the 2012 production of Into the Woods starring Amy Adams (one of the few musical productions to his the Delacorte Stage) hopefuls were reported to have started lining up on 81st St. at 10pm, sleeping on the street and later in the park, spending 14 hours in line to see the production later that night. While some tickets have recently moved discount app TodayTix, the tickets have always remained free for fans, encouraging anyone with a love for theatre or the arts to see a production with top of the line directors, scenic design, and above all, actors.
Some of the most famous and celebrated performers of their time have taken to the Shakespeare in the Park stage, all at various points in their career. Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Natalie Portman, Oscar Issics, John Goodman, and many, many more are movie stars who have spent their summers performing free theatre for the city of New York. Many have come to describe the Shakespeare in the Park experience as the closest thing they have to theatre camp- just actors, playing outside in nature, performing classic Shakespearean theatre. Here are some of the Delacorte shining stars, some before, and some after their big break.
James Earl Jones in 1962’s The Merchant of Venice, the inaugural production of the Delacorte Theater
Meryl Streep in 1978’s The Taming of the Shrew
Denzel Washington in Richard III in 1990
The cast of the 2001 production of Chekhov’s The Seagull, starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Christopher Walken, Marcia Gay Harden, and more.
Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway in 2009’s Twelfth Night
Amy Adams as The Baker’s Wife in the 2012 production of Into the Woods
This year, Shakespeare in the Park is finishing off their season with The Bard’s Troilus and Cressida, running through August 14th. With almost 2,000 free tickets distributed everey day, there’s no reason not to see this top notch production at this legendary, and iconic New York theatre!