Shakespeare in the Park
New York, New York
If it's summer in New York City, the Public Theater must be putting on one of their famed, free Shakespeare in the Park shows—Central Park standards since 1954. Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well were the choices for summer 2011. Demand always exceeds the number of available seats, so visit the Public online and learn how to save a spot.
St. Louis, Missouri
The Municipal Theatre in St. Louis's Forest Park is an outdoor gem that was constructed and opened during World War I. Back then some of the seats were set aside as freebies—and they still are today. The last nine rows, about 1,500 seats, are free on a first-come, first-served basis for every Muny performance.
Free Night of Theater
Free tickets are coming to a theater near you. Theatre Communications Group, a national organization of more than 700 member theaters, organizes free nights of theater each October. As of 2011 the free night is celebrated in 23 states, from Maine to California, with tens of thousands of free tickets available. Participating cities and theaters are listed in September at the TCG Free Night of Theater website.
The Mixed Blood Theatre on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus calls it Radical Hospitality. You'll call it a sweet deal. Mixed Blood Theatre offers free tickets for everyone for every main-stage production of the season in order to make Minneapolis theater accessible to all.
Miller Outdoor Theatre
This Hermann Park institution lights up Houston with a wide range of shows and events, including Urban Cowboy: The Musical, the Houston Shakespeare Festival, and Ain't Misbehavin'. Bring a blanket, a lawn chair, and a picnic basket for the Hillside, or move closer under the covered seating area. (Some evening shows require tickets for covered seating.) The season runs from spring through autumn.
Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival
Los Angeles, California
All the world's a stage—including the site of the old Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. That's where the Independent Shakespeare Co. puts its creative spin on the classics with free outdoor performances all summer long.
Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival
On one weekend each July fans flock to Volunteer Park for the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival. The fete, currently led by GreenStage, also features performances from more than half a dozen of the city's other production companies.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
This artistically inclined town (home to Williams College) hosts a long-running festival that claims to be “where talent spends the summer.” This summer theater scene has been going on since the 1950s, and free performances on Poker Flats Field are part of the tradition. Kick back with a picnic and enjoy.
Free for All
Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company is regularly rated one of the world's best Shakespearean theaters (they also put on other productions, from Euripides to Tennessee Williams). In August and September they showcase all that talent for free with a 25-year-old Free for All event that's become as much a Washington institution as haggling over deficits.
Free Shakespeare in the Park
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival has brought the Bard's best to Bay Area residents for almost 30 years, with free performances at outdoor stages around the city. Cymbeline is on tap for 2011, with some two dozen performances taking place between July and September.