This year marks William Shakespeare's 450th birthday. If you can't make it to England to honor the Bard with a pilgrimage to his hometown of Straford Upon Avon, or to the Globe Theatre in London, you can catch a free summer performance in these cities across the U.S.:
Shakespeare in the Park, New York City
Produced by the Public Theater, the annual Shakespeare in the Park returns for its 52nd year this summer with some famous names on the marquee. John Lithgow will play the titular role in King Lear, and there's a rumor that Annette Bening might be joining him. King Lear runs from July 22 through August 17, following Much Ado About Nothing, which runs from June 3 to July 7. Performances are held in Central Park in the atmospheric, open-air Delacorte Theater. Tickets are free and are distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater at noon on the day of the show, but big stars and popular shows mean that people often wait in line for hours before that. Alternatively, you can try your luck at getting your tickets online through the virtual ticketing lottery on the day of the show.
Free Shakespeare in the Park, San Francisco
Part of the city's Shakespeare Festival, San Francisco's summertime open-air Shakespeare performances are free, and held at the Main Post Parade Grounds at the Presidio. This year's offering is The Taming of the Shrew, which you can see from August 30 through Sept 21 on Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day Monday at 2 p.m.. The production will move to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park in September (dates and times to be announced). No tickets neccessary.
Houston Shakespeare Festival
For the first two weeks of August, you can catch free performances of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Henry IV (four performances each). The Houston Shakepeare Festival has been running since 1975 and performances are held in the evenings at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. It is a ticketed event for the covered seating area and open seating on the hill. Free tickets are available (four per person at the theater's box office) the day of the performance.
The Actors' Theatre of Columbus, Ohio
The Actors' Theatre is pulling out the big hitter this year for the the Bard's birthday: Hamlet will play in Schiller Park, in the city's pretty German Village, Thursday through Sunday from May 22 to June 22. This version of Hamlet, however, is set in the Victorian era during the suffragette movement. Hamlet will be performed by a woman, playing it as a man. The group will also perform The Merry Wives of Windsor from July 31 to August 31 and all shows are pay-what-you-can.
Shakespeare in Clark Park, Philadelphia
Philadelphia's summer Shakespeare offering, Henry IV, has the distinction of featuring a choreographed 100-person battle scene and coronation performed by members of the community. The production has only a short run, from July 30 to August 2, but performances are free and tickets are not required.