With the announcement of Broadway’s reopening in the fall and the approaching NY PopsUp program, many of New York City’s in-person performances are planning to return to the stage. The Public Theater is also preparing for the safe return of its Free Shakespeare in the Park this summer, a cherished festival held at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
The Public Theater has distributed free tickets for more than 60 years, with the goal of creating and making theater accessible to all audiences. Over five million people attended performances at the open-air amphitheater. The company usually stages two Shakespeare productions each summer, but this year, there will be only one production.
The annual festival canceled their performance last year due to the pandemic, which led to a reduction in staff. Despite the obstacles, remaining artists continue to brainstorm and innovate new productions. The company plans to present “Merry Wives,”which is hailed as a fresh and joyous adaptation by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh. Directed by the Public Theater’s associate artistic director and resident director Saheem Ali, Shakespeare in the Park will play from July 5 to August 29.
Past Shakespeare in the Park performances addressed current political and social issues. Ali and the company dedicated last year’s audio-only production of “Richard II” to the Black Lives Matter movement. The play, broadcasted on the radio in collaboration with WNYC, supported the fight against racism and recognized violence against Black communities.
While last year’s production was a solidarity piece, this year’s “Merry Wives” is a celebration of “Black joy, laughter, and vitality,” according to the Public Theater. Far from Elizabethan-era Windsor where Shakespeare set his play, the adaptation takes place in South Harlem among a community of West African immigrants.
“[Shakespeare in the Park] became a New York icon, but it’s a New York icon not just because it’s a wonderful theater, not just because it’s free, but because it represents us and our ideals, a place for everybody,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference. “And it’s going to be a sign of rebirth. When the first actor walks on this stage on July the 6th, it will be another sign that New York City is coming back for good and for better.”
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that performing arts and entertainment venues can reopen at 33% capacity on April 2. While indoor seating can be up to 100 people, outdoor seating can be up to 200 people. With proper testing or immunization, the Public Theater can allow up to 500 people to watch their plays. Under these guidelines, Central Park’s Delacorte Theater can accommodate 500 attendees in its outdoor space.
The Public Theater hasn’t released how many people they will allow enjoy their shows. The company will release more details, including the performance schedule, safety protocols, casting and free ticket distribution in the coming weeks.
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