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What is Off-Broadway Theatre?

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Even if you are not a fan of the performing arts, most people have heard of Broadway or seen a popular production like Wicked or Hadestown. But what makes Broadway different from off-Broadway? What does off-Broadway even mean? Read on to find the answers to these questions and discover more about off-Broadway theatre.

Off-Broadway vs Broadway Theatre

Off-Broadway theatre refers to any production (play, musical, etc.) held at a professional New York theatre venue that can seat between 100 and 499 people. Broadway theatre refers to the performances held in any of the 41 Broadway-designated venues in New York City’s Theatre District, capable of seating more than 500 guests. According to a 2022 Backstage article, there are 60 off-Broadway theatres, however, this number can vary as some venues like the New World Stages house multiple performance spaces. 

The designation of off-Broadway theatres came about in the 1950s due to the commercialization of Broadway. Off-Broadway theatres allowed the public to enjoy shows at less expensive venues and provided the cast and crew behind the productions a new outlet for their creativity. 

Another benefit of off-Broadway is that new shows can gain traction before earning billing on Broadway. Due to their smaller capacity, off-Broadway theatres can create an intimate environment where audiences can be more engaged with the production. The 1954 revival of the German musical The Threepenny Opera is one of the first productions to prove the success of off-Broadway theatre.

Off-Broadway Theatre Awards and Honors

While the Tony Awards are among the highest honors, they are only bestowed on Broadway productions, with an exception made once for Lotte Lenya’s performance in The Threepenny Opera. Established in the 1950s, the Obie Awards (officially the Off-Broadway Theater Awards) are the highest honor for Off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway works. Other awards that Off-Broadway productions and the cast and crew behind their success are eligible for include the Drama Desk Awards and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards.

Popular Shows That Moved To Broadway 

Many shows that had their initial runs off-Broadway would transition to become successes in larger theatres on Broadway. A few examples include Hamilton, Spring Awakening and Dear Evan Hansen. A more recent off-Broadway production that will have its spot on Broadway is Oh, Mary!, a dark comedy exploring the life of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

Many Off-Broadway productions never even appeared on Broadway including Nunsense and The Fantasticks, which had an initial off-Broadway run lasting 42 years and remains the world’s longest-running musical. Off-Broadway theatre is also more diverse than Broadway and is generally the starting point for most productions for its experimentally creative shows like Stomp and the Blue Man Group, the latter having expanded its reach to Las Vegas and international venues.

What Is Playing Off-Broadway?

Check out the following off-Broadway theatre productions that you can enjoy live:

  • The Play That Goes Wrong
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Molly Sweeney
  • A Sign of the Times
  • Perfect Crime
  • The Office! A Musical Parody
  • Dungeons & Dragons The Twenty-Sided Tavern
  • Titanique

Buy Off-Broadway Theatre Tickets

Experience the thrills of live theatre when you get your off-Broadway tickets with TicketSmarter today. If you plan to make a trip to the Big Apple, be sure to check out the exclusive travel deals from HotelPlanner.