Since the mid-1700s, New York City has been home to Broadway theater, one of the highest forms of commercial theater. But since then, various experimental and anti-establishment motivations spawned the Off- and Off-Off-Broadway movements. There are plenty of differences between Broadway and its two smaller counterparts. From the actors' paychecks to ticket prices to seating capacity, the three forms have strict differences. The terms themselves have evolved over the years to suggest different connotations, as well. The Off-Off Broadway movement, for example, began in downtown coffee houses and church basements and was purposefully attempting to strike out against commercial theater.
But what does all this mean for you, the theater-goer?
Broadway refers to the 40 professional theaters located in New York City's Theater District, each seating 500 or more audience members. Off-Broadway refers to theater productions anywhere in Manhattan with a seating capacity between 100 and 499. Off-Off-Broadway shows seat 99 or less people and are also located throughout Manhattan.
While the budget for Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway productions can vary significantly, generally reflecting the ticket price, it doesn't necessarily mean the smaller productions are less entertaining or of a poorer quality. Many popular Broadway shows, such as Avenue Q, Rent, Hair, and Blue Man Group first ran on Off-Broadway before eventually moving to Broadway. Additionally, smaller venues create an opening for more experimental and intimate theater experiences, which often cannot be reproduced on the Broadway show.
Not to say that Broadway shows aren't worth the ticket costs; with dazzling musicals like the Lion King, Spring Awakening, and The Phantom of the Opera, Broadway is the stuff of legends. It is, after all, a billion dollar industry. But all three forms of theater offer audiences laugh-till-you-cry comedies, award-winning dramas, and captivating musicals. And with the smaller venues, you can even afford dinner and drinks after the show.