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Shakespeare in the Park: Tips for surviving the ticket line

The line for free tickets can start hours before vouchers are even distributed.

A long line wound through Central Park on Tuesday for free tickets to Public Works' adaptation of "Twelfth Night," the second Shakespeare in the Park offering from the Public Theater. Here's how those waiting passed the time — and why they said it was worth it. (Credit: amNewYork / Noelle Lilley) (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, The Public)

The hard truth: There are no real shortcuts to getting free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. Everyone has to wait in line -- virtual or not -- and the earlier you get there, the better your shot is.

Shakespeare in the Park is a free program of The Public Theater, with productions held annually at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park since 1962. This season, Public Works' "Twelfth Night" will be on stage from July 17 until Aug. 19.

Tickets are notoriously hard to come by. A line blocks long grows inside Central Park on show dates, where free tickets are handed out outside the theater starting at noon. Each person waiting in line can get vouchers for two tickets -- if they’re lucky -- on a first come, first served basis. 

"It’s pretty much fair game," said Frank Gambino, the assistant theater manager.

We’ve gathered up tips to help you survive the line that just might make your chances of nabbing free entry a tad easier. 

Get there very, very early 

Central Park doesn’t open until 6 a.m., but some diehards will be waiting outside the gates starting the night before the production. Tickets are only given out on show dates, though, so don’t forget to check the schedule at publictheater.org. Shows are held most Fridays and Saturdays and select Sundays and weekdays. 

Don’t step off the line -- or try to sneak in pals

A group of people must start waiting at the same time, nobody can just meet a person in the middle of the line and no one can replace anyone else. Those in line can leave only for a few minutes at the time for food or to use the restroom, but otherwise, bring plenty of things to do to entertain yourself for a morning in Central Park. 

Bring a chair or picnic blanket 

Since you’re only allowed to step off the line for a few minutes, you’ll want to make sure to have a comfy spot to eat lunch after your trip to the concession stand, which opens at 11 a.m. An outdoor beach chair or picnic blanket will do the trick. 

Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities 

We’re not saying you’ll definitely spot a celeb while sitting out in the heat for hours on the Shakespeare in the Park line, but it has happened. During the production of "The Twelfth Night" in 2009, Anne Hathaway and the rest of the cast went out after the performance and then ordered pizza for the people waiting for the next night’s performance.

Consider lining up on a gloomy day

Inclement afternoon weather doesn’t always mean a rained-out performance. These cloudy days are often your best chances to nab tickets, as long as the forecast calls for a clearer evening. Performances are seldom canceled before 8 p.m., according to the Public Theater.  

Make sure you’re registered 

Getting tickets isn’t just about standing in line. Once you finally make it to the box office, you’ll be asked to display your Public Theater Patron ID. Don’t have one? Be sure to register at publictheater.org before you waste your afternoon. 

Enter the in-person lottery 

Skip the Central Park line altogether and visit the Public Theater’s downtown location at 425 Lafayette St. at Astor Place. You can enter your name starting at 11 a.m. the day of a performance, and the line is typically much shorter. Names are drawn at noon -- two tickets each -- and you’ll have to return to pick up vouchers between 5 and 7:30 p.m. 

In-person lotteries are also accessible at various distribution locations across the boroughs, but only on select dates. The 2018 location list includes the Elmhurst Library in Queens, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Hunts Point Library in the Bronx and St. George Library on Staten Island. 

Try your luck at the digital lottery instead

Like your favorite Broadway shows, there’s a virtual lottery for Shakespeare in the Park productions. You can enter on the TodayTix app between at midnight and noon the day of a performance, and email is sent to ticket hopefuls by 2 p.m. The virtual lottery selects who will get tickets at random, but you’ll have to claim them within a half hour of receiving the email. 

With Caroline Linton

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