"It's Too Darn Hot": 7 Ways to Survive the Shakespeare in the Park Line

Playbill.com offers a guide to waiting in line for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. 

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater
Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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It's summertime and the living's easy... unless you want free tickets for Shakespeare in the Park.

The summer tradition of free Shakespeare, performed in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, is an eagerly anticipated tradition for so many theatregoers that obtaining the elusive tickets can take some careful planning and strategy. 

Every year, tickets are given out in the afternoon, on a first-come, first-served basis to those who waited in line. Over the years annual performances — featuring the likes of James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway and Al Pacino — have inspired people to get in line before the sun rises … or even after it sets, the night before.

Waiting in the park all day can feel a bit like entering battle, and no soldier goes to the front unprepared. To help those who want to see Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as sparring lovers in  Much Ado About Nothing and John Lithgow and Annette Bening star in  King Lear, Playbill.com has assembled some tips to ensure fellow theatregoers stay comfortable while waiting for tickets.

Donna Murphy in Into the Woods.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"I Hope I Get It"

Weekends tend to be busier at the Delacorte than weekdays. If you can wait in line on a weekday, go for it. Or if there is a chance of rain, the line will be shorter, giving you a better chance of getting tickets. (Be forewarned, however, sometimes shows are canceled due to heavy rain.)

Lily Rabe and David Furr in As You Like It.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here"

Depending on what time you get to Central Park, you will be sitting in line for anywhere between two to eight hours, on grass or pavement. It may look peaceful and idyllic at first, but you definitely want to be comfortable. A blanket or pillow are both great, as are folding chairs and yoga mats. If you plan on getting there extremely early, an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag are also options.

Andre Holland and Annie Parisse in All's Well That Ends Well.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Let Me Entertain You"

Bring a book or two, a deck of cards, board games, a crossword puzzle, an iPhone or even your iPad to stream a movie. Even if you manage to nap for a few hours while you are in line, people and dog-watching will probably get boring as the day goes on. Depending on how long you are waiting, you could even read a copy of the play you're seeing that night.

Lily Rabe and Al Pacino in Merchant of Venice.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Food, Glorious Food"

You are going to be in line for a long time, and you are going to get hungry. Bring some bottles of water, snacks, or even an entire lunch, and definitely bring some coffee or tea with you. If you can't pack your snacks, you can order food from Andy's Deli, which will deliver to people waiting in line. Their phone number is (212) 799-3355, and they open at 6 AM. The Public also sells food at Public Fare. The seasonally operated outdoor cafe at the Delacorte Theater provides sandwiches, hot dogs, snacks, desserts, coffee, wine and beer to hungry theatregoers and accepts cash and credit cards.

Heidi Schreck and Emily Bergl in Comedy of Errors.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Friendship, Such a Perfect Blendship"

The wait is always better if you have someone with you. You can help keep each other awake or take turns napping in shifts. Make sure you get in line together; people are not permitted to join groups after the lines are formed.

Some people view waiting for tickets as a competitive sport. Respect the rules. Don't cut anyone in line and if someone asks you to watch his or her things for a moment, help the person out. You might need a favor later in the day. And, it never hurts to be friendly; I've actually made some good friends while sitting in line. You can learn a lot about someone in eight hours.

Tonya Pinkins and Carson Elrod in Measure for Measure
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Learn Your Lessons Well"

Tickets are distributed at noon. Each person can get two tickets.

Before the park opens, the line for tickets starts at 81st and Central Park West. After the Park opens at 6 AM, the line moves to the Delacorte Theater. Someone from The Public Theater will come out and lead you there, but if you are waiting outside the park, you should probably set an alarm for 5:45 AM.

There are public restrooms by the theatre, in the park.

If you have any questions while you're in line, employees of the Public Theater will be there. They will talk with you while you wait and ensure that people respect the rules and don't cut in front of each other.

If you can't leave your apartment or office, you can always enter the online lottery. Create an account at shakespeareinthepark.org and enter the virtual lottery. If you win tickets to that night's performance, you'll receive an e-mail at noon that day.

John Lithgow rehearses for King Lear.
Photo by Tammy Shell

"Well, Someone Tell Me When Is It My Turn"

Be patient. It's worth the wait.

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)