Can anything in NYC compare to a summer’s play?

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Shakespeare in a park. Art by Nadia Ali.

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In As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  This summer, the Public Theater is turning Central Park’s Delacorte Theater into their stage, giving the entire city of New York the opportunity to see Shakespeare’s work come to life in free, professional performances.

The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park has been providing high-quality theatrical productions to New Yorkers at no cost since it started in 1962. The program is run by The Public Theater, an organization dedicated to bringing theater to the masses through low-cost or free performances throughout the year. Each summer, A-list celebrities headline the cast in adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.  Past participants include Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Anne Hathaway. This year’s productions are The Comedy of Errors, featuring Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater, and a modern, musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Performances of The Comedy of Errors began May 28 and will run through June 30.  Love’s Labour’s Lost starts July 23 and ends August 18. All shows start at 8:30 p.m., lasting about 90 minutes without any intermission.

The Comedy of Errors cast member Skipp Sudduth, who plays Duke and Luce in the play, discussed his enthusiasm for the first of this summer’s two productions. The play is about two sets of identical twins separated as children who now live as master-servant pairs in rival cities and cross the border to find each other, leading to a case of mistaken identity.

“Our version of The Comedy of Errors is fast-paced, funny, and tailored for American audiences. The entire cast plus a complement of six dancers [work] together to bring this classic comedy to life. You’ll leave humming a tune and tapping your toes and dancing,” said Sudduth.

Though the program is open to everyone, Sudduth felt that students could be particularly affected by the shows.

“I think The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park puts ‘The Bard’ in a setting that makes [his work] more fun and accessible for everyone. I think kids especially should experience Shakespeare in a fantastic setting as theater, not literature,” he said.

“The themes and messages and stories that are Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are universal to the human condition regardless of your age or social standing. It is always fun to realize how many words and phrases we use now were created by Shakespeare for his characters and his plays.”

The program has become a summer staple in NYC, so it can be tough to get tickets to the performances. Tickets are handed out at 12 p.m. in Central Park for that night’s shows, but many line up hours earlier to score seats. AP English and Drama teacher Joseph Canzoneri has attended The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park in the past and plans to go this year. “Go, go, go if you haven’t attended before: it’s a New York tradition for cultured people like us,” he urged.

A virtual ticketing system is also in place – users create an account and can try to get up to 2 tickets at noon.  They will be told whether or not they got tickets via email soon after. There are special borough distribution days for each production, and the Queens distribution day for Love’s Labour’s Lost is July 31 at the Queens Public Library – Central Branch. If tickets are unused or unclaimed, they go to people in the standby line, which starts doling out tickets at 6:30 p.m. with a 1-ticket-per-person limit in Central Park.

Going earlier in the run of the shows or attending when it’s cloudy or lightly raining will help combat crowds.  Even the actors have enjoyed themselves performing in bad weather.

“The funniest thing so far has been rehearsing in the rain. It’s outdoors, obviously, and you have to be ready for anything,” Sudduth said. “It’s like summer camp! And we’re putting on Shakespeare! Sometimes it’s literally a ‘comedy of errors’ but little by little we’re creating a play I know everyone is going to love.”

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