What is the difference between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway? For the inexperienced actor, these terms may sound too complicated to comprehend. It is a common misconception that the main difference between these iconic New York theaters has something to do with the shows’ actual venue. While it is partially true, considering the fact that almost all Broadway theaters (except for one) are within the proximity of Times Square, it is not exactly how you should distinguish Broadway from Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.
Instead, any knowledgeable theater aficionado will tell you that these NYC theaters are actually classified by the number of seats. To better break it down to you, this article discusses the mechanics and conditions of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway.
Breaking Down Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway
Number of seats: 500 or more
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With the addition of the Hudson Theater this year, there are now 41 professional Broadway theaters in NYC. Each of the theater runs from 41st St. to West 54th St. and includes Times Square. Each Broadway house has three major organizations: Shubert, Nederlander, and Jujamcyn. Every single Broadway theater is affiliated with the Actor’s Equity Associated, so every performer working with them should have an equity contract.
The only Broadway theater outside Midtown is the Vivian Beaumont Theater located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex at 150 West 65th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Despite not being located in the Theater District, it is still classified as a Broadway-class theater, and all productions featured here are eligible for a Tony Award.
Fun fact: The Gershwin Theatre is the largest Broadway theater with a whopping 1,933 seats! It is located at 222 West 51st Street in midtown Manhattan in the Paramount Plaza building. The Gershwin Theatre has also been home to the Tony Award–winning show Wicked since 2003.
Number of seats: 100–499
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Off-Broadway theaters are professional performance venues in New York City. In total, there are roughly 40 of these theaters all over the Big Apple. The only reason why the number is less precise than its Broadway counterparts is that there are houses, including the New World Stage, that have multiple performance spaces (the New World Stage 1, New World Stage 2, and so on).
Like Broadway, Off-Broadway theaters work with performers who have equity contracts.
Fun fact: Multiple Off-Broadway shows have gone on to have subsequent runs on Broadway, including Hair, Little Shop of Horrors, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the widely successful Hamilton.
Number of seats: Up to 99
Off-Off Broadway started out as an anti-commercial and experimental movement of theater. Although it is determined by the number of seats, the term is sometimes applied to any performance in New York City that includes non-union actors as well as union actors not under a Broadway, Off-Broadway, or League of Resident Theatres contract.
Off-Off Broadway is the perfect venue for actors who are just starting out in their career. It is a great way to add acting credits and meet directors, playwrights, and other up-and-coming performers. The most well-known Off-Off Broadway houses include Dixon Place and Under St. Marks.
Fun fact: Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has performed in Off-Off Broadway, particularly in Ars Nova located in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.
The Difference Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway by Holly