Views from the Digital Collections: Shakespeare in the Park

By Carrie McBride, Communications
June 17, 2022

New Yorkers love a line. Zabars, cupcakes, Cronuts, Supreme, the Governor's Island ferry, Blue Bottle coffee, and arguably the most enjoyable—Shakespeare in the Park. What began 60 years ago by Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater, in an effort to bring free theater to the people has become a welcome rite of summer.

The iconic outdoor Delacorte Theater has hosted dramatic luminaries year after year including James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Raul Julia, Denzel Washington, Colleen Dewhurst, Sam Waterston, Meryl Streep, Ruby Dee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andre Braugher, Dianne Wiest, and many, many more. This year's performances are Richard III from June 21–July 17 and As You Like It from August 10– September 11. In addition to the time-honored in-person lines, tickets will also be distributed via digital lottery.

The New York Public Library has hundreds of images from these productions in our Digital Collections including photos of performances, rehearsals, the stage, and audience. We invite theater lovers to explore this treasure trove of imagery and see what else you can discover in our collection of 900,000+ images.

Joseph Papp outdoors at Delacorte Theatre construction. 1960.

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1699530

Set design by Robin Wagner for the NY Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of the play "Measure For Measure." 1985.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_250357

Actors Val Kilmer, Mandy Patinkin, and Margaret Whitton in a scene from the NY Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of the play "Henry IV." 1981.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_247848

Audience members waiting on the Great Lawn of Central Park for free tickets to the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Twelfth Night" at the Delacorte Theater. 1989.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_627140

Promotional photo of James Earl Jones and Stacy Keach in the Shakespeare in the Park stage production Hamlet. 1972.

Photo by Friedman-Abeles. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 5042310

Actors (L-R) John Amos, Fisher Stevens and Gregory Hines in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Twelfth Night" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 1989.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_627175

Actor Kevin Kline dueling with cast members in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Henry V" at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. 1984.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_628728

Kate Mulgrew (as Tamora) and Keith David (as Aaron) in the stage production Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, Delacorte Theater. 1989.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 3884287

Actresses (L-R) Tracy Ullman & Helen Hunt in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of the play "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. 1990.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_1317748

Christopher Walken, Tom Aldredge, and Karen Grassle in the Shakespeare in the Park stage production "Cymbeline." 1971.

Photo by Friedman-Abeles. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 5047903

Actors Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Blair Underwood with cast members in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Measure For Measure" at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. 1993.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_628786

Shakespeare in the Park, audience watching rehearsal. 1957

Photo by Robert Sugarman. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 58162234

Actors Kevin Kline & Blythe Danner with entire cast in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 1988.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_627062

William Hurt and Emmanuel Lewis in a scene from the NY Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of the play "A Midsummer Night's Dream." 1982.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_250386

Actors Kevin Kline & Andre Braugher in a scene from the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Measure For Measure" at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. 1993.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_628790

J.D. Cannon and Colleen Dewhurst with children and others in park during production of "Taming of the Shrew." 1956.

Photo by George E. Joseph. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1699527

Director Robin Phillips working with actors Denzel Washington and Sharon Washington during a rehearsal for the NY Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of the play "Richard III."

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_202638

Actor Raul Julia holding a book in flames as a man in a Raul Julia mask lurks behind him in a scene from the NY Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of the play "The Tempest." 1981.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_200483

Producer Joseph Papp with cast members Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer onstage to celebrate Papp's 68th birthday after a Central park performance of "Twelfth Night" 1989.

Photo by Martha Swope. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: swope_99926

Shakespeare in the Park, portrait of girl from audience.

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 58162318

Images used in this post from the Friedman-Abeles Collection have been preserved, cataloged, and digitized through the generosity of Nancy Abeles Marks and the Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Charitable Trust.