INWOOD — Overcrowding issues in Inwood Hill Park coupled with financial constraints have prompted a popular theater festival to bring an end to nearly two decades of free Shakespeare performances, organizers announced.
But after this summer, it plans to temporarily halt its shows while seeking to raise funds and establish a permanent space, organizers said.
This summer, the festival will only host two performances and a children’s concert, cancelling the opera it usually organizes during the summer.
The decision came after the festival could no longer be issued designated park space for its performances, leaving it to share increasingly crowded green space with barbecue pits and picnic-goers.
“We need the financing and the circumstances to be safe for everyone. People have expressed concern about what's going on out there,” said festival director Ted Minos, who added that the event has been difficult to organize due to park crowding in recent years.
“As it is, we feel a little at odds with the community. We shouldn’t be at odds with that. There’s a great part of the community that enjoys the barbecuing.”
The group's ad-hoc stage area is on the peninsula in Inwood Hll Park — a spot that's quickly become popular for barbecuing and picnics after the Parks Department lifted a ban on outdoor grilling there approximately five years ago.
Some residents, however, have pushed back against the space's new use as a designated barbecue area.
At a recent community board meeting, Inwood resident Cynthia Auburn, a supporter of the Shakespeare festival, said the noise and garbage conditions generated by the barbecuing have become “deplorable and dangerous.”
"I had to move my bed to the back of my apartment," Auburn said, saying she can't sleep because of all the noise. Auburn said she sent a letter to the Parks Department early this month requesting more security along the peninsula, stating it's "simply a question of time before violence ensues."
The Parks Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, the agency's assistant commissioner, Michael Dockett, said during the meeting that he’s committed to supporting the festival this summer and finding ways to allow the theater company to continue.
Minos said the Parks Department "has been very good to us,” adding he doesn't fault them for the crowding conditions. “But there is that challenge,” he said.
He added that for now, he’s focused on the upcoming show, although he has not given up on the idea of returning to the park and continuing to provide what he’s dubbed “a space for culture.”
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be out there when the audience is engaged,” Minos said. “And the parks audience is the most amazing audience in all of Manhattan. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done.”
The Inwood Shakespeare Festival will open Wednesday, June 8, with “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” with repeat performances every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday through June 25. The annual children’s festival takes place on Monday, July 18.