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Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway: What to Know

Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway: What to Know
Photo Source: Wikipedia

It’s a pretty common misconception that should be cleared up right here and now: A given theater’s rendering as either Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway has absolutely nothing to do with its proximity to the actual avenue. Yes, every Broadway theater (with one exception) is Times Square-adjacent. However, the determining factor for a theater’s classification is actually—drum roll—the number of seats.

A theater’s status comes with a number of other stipulations every New York City-living actor should be familiar with. That’s why we’re breaking down the ins and outs of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway theaters.

Broadway
Number of seats
: 500 or more
You need to know: With this year’s addition of the Hudson Theatre, there are 41 Broadway theaters, each of which is within the confines of 41st St. (where the Nederlander is located) and 54th St. (where you’ll find Studio 54). The only Broadway house outside of Midtown is the Vivian Beaumont, Lincoln Center’s biggest stage located at the iconic Upper West Side locale. The Broadway houses have three major “landlord” organizations: Shubert, Nederlander, and Jujamcyn. Roundabout is the primary nonprofit proprietor and boasts just three Broadway houses. Every single Broadway theater is an Actors’ Equity Association-affiliated house and thus every actor working in them is also Equity; no exception.

Off-Broadway
Number of seats: 100–499
You need to know: There are roughly 40 Off-Broadway theaters in New York City. That number is less precise than its Broadway counterpart for a few reasons, but mainly due to the fact that some houses, such as New World Stages, actually contain multiple performance spaces. Compared to Broadway, there is also a greater mix of commercial and not-for-profit houses: The aforementioned New World, Theatre Row and its six stages, and the Soho Playhouse fall under the former; Atlantic Theatre Company, Ars Nova, and 59E59 being the latter. Whether a given Off-Broadway house is Equity or not varies, too; the bigger stages (like the Atlantic or the Public or New World Stages) are union, while smaller houses like St. Luke's Theatre are not. It should also be noted that countless shows that have ultimately made it to Broadway got their starts Off-Broadway before moving to a bigger house (“Hamilton” and this season's “The Band's Visit” come to mind as a prominent examples).

Off-Off-Broadway
Number of seats: Up to 99
You need to know: Where classifications become truly murky is Off-Off-Broadway, as the primary determination is that a performance space has up to 99 seats. By that logic, then, couldn’t anywhere qualify as Off-Off-Broadway? It is true, to an extent, which is why Off-Off-Broadway has very nominal associations with commercial theater; it’s more frequently regarded as grounds for experimental or nontraditional performance. As such, Equity contracts are few and far between Off-Off-Broadway making it an ideal venue for early-career actors to add credits to their résumés and meet other up-and-coming creatives. Some of the most well-known Off-Off-Broadway houses include Dixon Place, HERE, the Laurie Beechman Theatre, and Under St. Marks. 

To book your own Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway gig, check out our NYC audition listings!

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