What constitutes a theater being distinguished as Broadway, Off Broadway, or even Off-Off Broadway? Is it the cost? Quality of the show? Location to the famous thoroughfares of Broadway Marquis, and Winter Garden in New York City?
The answer is actually, none of the above.
With professional theaters in every major city across our nation, how does one determine whether a show or musical is considered a Broadway or Off Broadway show? It’s surprisingly a simple answer having to do with seating.
What Determines A Broadway Theater?
Theaters that have a seating capacity of 500 or more are considered Broadway Theaters or “On Broadway,” regardless of where it is located or the cost of the ticket. What many people don’t realize is that a Broadway Theater does not actually need to reside on Broadway.
In fact, only 4 of the 40 Broadway shows currently reside on Broadway Street. Currently, the theater district extends from West 40th Street to West 54th Street, and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue.
Historically, the classification of being a “Broadway show” was much different when the theater scene began back in the 1700s. In the decades following the Civil War, the theaters of New York moved to Midtown Manhattan where a grouping of ornate buildings were later dubbed the “Great White Way” by theatergoers.
In addition to the seating requirement, Broadway Theaters also abide by the Actors’ Equity’s Broadway production contracts. According to Broadway Direct, “Broadway productions are required to employ union members unless special arrangements are made, usually requiring the stamp of approval from the specific union that addresses that particular area of expertise.”
The cost of ticket prices are generally higher in a Broadway production and the cost of producing the shows are greater as well. According to Tours By Foot, “Musicals on Broadway typically have an average initial cost of $9.6 million and for Off-Broadway musicals $1 million.”
What Determines Off Broadway or Off-Off Broadway?
There are hundreds of other professional theaters across the country as well as in New York City that are not considered Broadway but that produce equally spectacular shows and musicals. For instance, Off Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters are scattered around Manhattan and NYC, especially in Greenwich Village.
Off Broadway Theaters typically hold seating for 99-499 people, whereas Off-Off Broadway Theaters hold under 99 people.
Historically, the Off Broadway movement began in the 1950s when theatergoers were disturbed by the high price of a ticket to see a show or musical. Theater lovers were looking for a less expensive venue to see shows. As a result, some of these Off Broadway venues have become the birthplace of some wonderfully experimental shows that have delighted audiences for years.
One final area where Broadway and Off Broadway shows differentiate is the awards qualifications. Only Broadway shows are eligible for Tony Awards while both can be nominated for Drama Desk Awards. Only Off Broadway can be nominated for Obie Awards, which celebrate the best in only Off-Broadway plays and musicals.