Summer is when many New Yorkers plot when and how they are going to leave the city for as long as possible. Although this has been a relatively mild summer so far (we still have to get through the rest of August), New York summers can be a cauldron of oppressively humid heat and sweaty anger.
But New York City is also a place of free Shakespeare in the summer, and if you have not gotten to one of the city’s offerings of free Shakespeare, make plans to do so at once.
The most well-known free summer Shakespeare plays are those produced by the Public Theater in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. But there are many others and they run the gamut. Many are done in parks and one is even produced in a parking lot.
When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan I made sure to attend the Inwood Shakespeare Festival of free plays in Inwood Hill Park courtesy of the Moose Hall Theater Company. A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to attend The New York Classical Theatre’s production of King Lear in Battery Park that featured my uncle Andrew in the role of the fool.
Living in Flushing, Queens among throngs of Asian immigrants and currently out of the zones of hipsters and rapid (or at least costly) gentrification, I am fortunately still walking distance from seeing the Bard’s work performed.
The Hip to Hip Theatre Company specializes in bringing Shakespeare to the people of Queens. I was recently fortunate enough Hip to Hip’s production of Cymbeline that was performed in the garden of the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. I walked straight there from the Main Street stop of the 7 train and got there with time to spare and was able to walk home afterwards with no trouble.
My wife and our two baby girls got there before me and the good people of the museum had us set up nicely with some folding chairs on either side of our double-wide jogging stroller (bringing a double-wide jogging stroller to an indoor production would indeed make us among the rudest people on Earth but this was in an outside park and we were not in anyone’s way, really).
The audience was at full to overflowing capacity well before show time, and more folding chairs were brought out and placed wherever people could find space without getting in the way of the actors. There was a children’s presentation before the show began. A member of the theater company brought children from the audience up in front of the crowd and put them through their Shakespeare paces, including getting them to perform dramatic Shakespearean Deaths.
The show started and despite obstacles that come with performing in public, outdoors and in New York—actors dealt with microphones that cut out and fed back and they were constantly competing with the sounds of overhead airplanes and a running power generator—the cast forged through and put on a great show.
Watching Shakespeare in summer twilight is special no matter where you are watching. The changing light signals a cooling of the air and the start of night and new possibilities. Dusk ushers in with it the promise of adventure under the cover of night and hearing the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays as the sun sets is magnificent and is a joy that can’t be duplicated.
Watching Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the summer night was outstanding. Even though we wrestled with two baby girls the whole night and even had to take them to the back when they started getting noisy (they liked the show and got excited), it was still possible to get lost in the beautiful language of the play. And Cymbeline has everything: romance, long-lost relatives, bloody swordfights, the works.
Once the show was over, audience members and actors alike paid compliments to our twin girls. I am proud that they went to their first Shakespeare performance when they were only six months old. The Hip to Hip Theater Company is to be admired for so ably fulfilling its mission.
Don’t miss the chance to see some Shakespeare this summer.