All you need to know about the New York Off-Broadway experience.
Theatergoers love to sing that old Broadway melody, but what about the delight of an Off-Broadway experience? The truth is many visitors (and natives) shy away from seeing these shows, not knowing exactly what it means. Here’s a short, handy guide to help you out.
What makes a theater considered “Off-Broadway?”
Only 40 theaters in all of Manhattan are designated Broadway theaters. The primary consideration is size; an Off-Broadway theater must have less than 500 seats.
Can an Off-Broadway theater actually be on Broadway?
Yes, location isn’t a factor. There are Off-Broadway theaters stretching from the tip of lower Manhattan to Harlem. However, many of the best-known Off-Broadway theater companies, such as Second Stage, have their primary home in the so-called theater district (West 40s and West 50s). In fact, the Snapple Theatre Center, home of the long-running “The Fantasticks” is actually just off the corner of Broadway and 50th Street.
Why should I consider seeing a show Off-Broadway?
Many of the recent Pulitzer Prize winners such as “Disgraced,” “Clybourne Park” and “Next to Normal,” were first seen in Off-Broadway theaters—as were the musical megahits “Avenue Q” and “In the Heights.” In addition, some Off-Broadway companies produce rarely-seen revivals of long-forgotten plays, while others specialize in original, often innovative work that might be deemed too non-commercial for Broadway.
Can I see famous actors in an Off-Broadway show?
Absolutely. Major stars, including Emmy Award winner Mary-Louise Parker or Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, more frequently work Off-Broadway than on Broadway today. And Off-Broadway can also be a place to see a top-notch actor before they become a superstar. The Atlantic Theater Company gave the first big breaks to future stars such as William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman—who met there and later got married.
Is it easier to get tickets to an Off-Broadway show than a Broadway show?
Not always. Many Off-Broadway companies, such as the Signature Theatre Company, have strong subscriber bases that buy up many of the seats for a show’s run before it even starts. Moreover, an Off-Broadway show that generates strong pre-opening buzz, such as the Public Theater’s current musical smash “Hamilton,” can sell out its run almost immediately. But the enormous variety of Off-Broadway shows on view at any one time—there may be 50 Off-Broadway productions playing simultaneously—leaves many Off-Broadway theaters with plenty of seats for day-of visitors, which can be purchased at the box office, through discount websites and the TKTS line in Duffy Square, among other options.
Is Off-Broadway a cheaper alternative to Broadway?
There are plenty of bargains to be had Off-Broadway. Small, up-and-coming companies often charge as little as $10. Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater (where “Disgraced” originated) sells all its tickets for just $30. Conversely, other Off-Broadway theaters routinely charge as much as $80 or more for seats and special event-type Off-Broadway productions can really put a dent in your wallet; for example, tickets to the long-running interactive hit “Sleep No More” at the McKittrick Hotel in West Chelsea run from $120 to $300 per person.