Arrive between 8 - 10 a.m. For The Best Chance of Getting Tickets
People begin arriving for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park as early as 6 a.m. when Central Park opens. Although there are some days when people are able to show up at 12 p.m., join the ticket line and get tickets, your best chance of getting free tickets to see Shakespeare in the Park is if you arrive to join the line between 8 and 10 a.m.
Pro-tip: There is less competition for weeknight tickets and those during previews, so if your schedule if flexible, keep that in mind.
Bring A Blanket or Chair
A few staff members will keep people in line and assign spots, but you'll be happiest if you bring along a chair or blanket, as most of the waiting spots require sitting on pavement or rough patches just off the path near the Delacorte Theater.
Food is Available While You Wait on Line
In addition to various hot dog and ice cream vendors and other food options near Central Park, Andy's Deli (212-799-3355) will deliver to people waiting on line for tickets. You can order everything from breakfast with coffee to sandwiches with soda to keep you sustained while you wait.
Have All Group Members Arrive Together
If you're planning to wait on line with some friends (which I definitely recommend) plan to arrive at the same time. You're not allowed to have latecomers join you -- it wouldn't be fair to the people who are waiting in line behind you. There are a couple of staff members around to enforce the rule, and believe me, they notice when someone new joins the line who hasn't been there. If they catch you, they'll send you, as well as your late-coming friend, to the end of the line.
Keep Yourself Entertained
Bring your iPod, a good book, some magazines, or even some work along with you to pass the time. You'll be in line for about 3-4 hours, and you'll be glad to have a crossword puzzle or other distraction to keep you entertained once the people-watching starts to get boring.
Plan for the Weather
You'll be sitting outside for several hours waiting for tickets -- if it's going to be a sunny day, bring sunblock and water to keep hydrated; if you think it might rain, bring your umbrella or raincoat; if the day promises to be unseasonably cool, you'll be happy you've brought a sweater or jacket along.
There Is A Bathroom Available
One of the few permissible reasons allowed for leaving the line and returning is needing to take a bathroom break. Fortunately, there are (relatively) clean bathrooms available at the Delacorte Theater, right at the beginning of the line.
Know The Basics
Free tickets are being distributed for the same day's performance and are non-exchangeable. That means if the performance gets rained out, you're out of luck. That also means that you need to be available to wait for tickets in the morning and attend the evening's performance that same night (doors open around 8 p.m. for the 8:30 p.m. show).
Tickets Are Issued for Specific Seats
Another reason it's good for your group to arrive together -- tickets are being distributed for specific seats, so if you want to sit together, plan to wait in line together. The great thing about specific seat assignments means that you don't have to worry about getting back to the theater early for a good spot -- all the seats in the theater have great views of the stage and you'll have a spot saved just for you.
Feeling Lucky? Enter the Online Ticket Lottery
If you don't want to spend several hours of your day waiting in line for tickets you can try your luck at the Virtual Ticketing System. Once you set-up your account, you can enter between midnight and noon to be entered in the lottery for tickets. You'll get an email notification around noon if you've gotten tickets, and you can pick up your tickets at the Delacorte Theater between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Get Tickets in the Boroughs
If Central Park isn't part of your plan, check out the dates for ticket distribution in the boroughs for your chance to get tickets at an alternative venue.
No Time to Wait In Line? Be a Summer Sponsor
If you don't have time to spend several hours waiting in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, all is not lost -- you can also be a sponsor of Shakespeare in the Park and get tickets without waiting in line for $200 per ticket. Sponsor ticket costs are 100% tax-deductible and your contribution ensures that Shakespeare in the Park will continue. (Sponsor tickets are also available at a discount if you subscribe to the Public Theatre's upcoming season.)