For years the New York institution has made tickets available to theatre lovers at no cost, but it hasn't been free for those willing to pay. This summer, the Public Theater is cracking down on ticket scalpers with some help from Albany.
The Daily News ran a June 9 story detailing the process in which New Yorkers hired "professional line sitters" from Craigslist to brave the long lines and summer heat to nab a pair of tickets to the free Shakespeare in the Park offerings. Some Craigslist ads offered their services (and a pair of tickets) for $125.
The article caught the eye of staffers in office of New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and progress is being made to keep every last ticket from the line free.
Public Theater executive director Andrew Hamingson told Playbill.com that the issue has been going on "Forever. Decades. It's much more prevalent because of the Internet." Prior to the dawn of the web, Public staffers were able to see the transactions take place first hand and remove the scalpers, but in recent years the deal is made anonymously and occurs out of sight.
The institution has also been in touch with Craigslist to curtail online posts offering Shakespeare in the Park tickets for a fee, but as Hamingson put it, "We didn't really have a foot to stand on without the Attorney General's office, or some jurisdiction behind us. We asked, but they had said it was free trade in the past." This led the Public to reach out to the Craigslist posters personally, "We would call those people and say we were from the Public and [say] 'Please don't do this.' That it was against our mission," Hamingson said.
Following the Daily News article, Cuomo's office contacted the Public asking if they wanted the Attorney General to get involved and contact Craigslist. "Without hesitation I said, 'Absolutely, please help us,'" Hamingson said, pointing out that Cuomo's office, "in particular has been very mindful of the non-profits and making sure that we are taken care of appropriately."
The response was immediate. Craigslist agreed to comply and posts offering tickets to The Winter's Tale and The Merchant of Venice were removed as soon as they were flagged.
It's not entirely up to Craigslist to keep the site free of Shakespeare in the Park scalpers. "Things will get through," Hamingson said. "We are monitoring it on a more than hourly basis here. We are flagging it and letting Craigslist know if things pop up and they are immediately removed."
It should also be noted that New Yorkers who prefer to pay for Shakespeare in the Park seats (and the chance to catch Al Pacino as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice) can become Summer Supporters of the Public, via a $350 donation.
"It's not a ticket sale, it's totally tax deductible," Hamingson points out. In addition to corporate sponsorship and private endowments, the Summer Supporter funding is what keeps a large majority of tickets at the Delacorte free each performance.
Though production costs escalate annually, the Public has kept the same amount of free tickets consistent over the years, according to Hamingson. "The free tickets that go to the line every day is constant," he said. "It's the same as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, it has not changed."
The Winter's Tale officially opens June 30 at the Delacorte. The Merchant of Venice, which begins performances June 12, will open July 1. Both productions are scheduled to run in repertory through Aug. 1.
Performances of Shakespeare in the Park are Tuesday-Sunday at 8 PM. Tickets are free and are available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at 1 PM, or by entering the Public's online ticketing lottery at ShakespeareinthePark.org.
The closest entrances to the Delacorte are located at 81st Street and Central Park West or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.