PRE: What's the difference between Broadway, Off Broadway, and off-Off Broadway?

New York City is known for having a rich theatre scene (duh), but what should we make of its abundance of theatre venues? How do we tell them all apart? Does the type of venue have anything to do with the quality of theatre? These are the questions that used to plague me, until finally, after years of misinformation and incorrect assumptions, I decided to educate myself.

*Thank GOD for the internet.*

It may seem overwhelming to process and categorize the vast number of performance spaces that call New York City home, but don't worry, I'm going to break it down for clarity's sake. You'll thank me later...

What is Broadway?

According to Wikipedia (probably THE most official source), Broadway: "refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world."

So...what does that all mean?

Basically, there are currently 41 official Broadway venues active in New York City. You can reference this list, provided by Broadway.org, to keep track of the different venues and their corresponding addresses. If a venue isn't on this list among the 41 venues, it's not a Broadway theatre, plain and simple. 

Why are these 41 venues considered Broadway theatres?

Well, it comes down to money, unions, and contracts (*yawn*). Broadway theatres are larger, have bigger budgets, cost more to run, and have to pay their actors more moolah. But I like to think about it based on how many people the theatres can seat. Really! To hopefully make things easier, I will refer you to what I have named The Broadway Rule:

A Manhattan theatre must have at least 500 seats in its house in order to be considered a Broadway theatre. However, not all Manhattan theatres that have at least 500 seats in their houses (Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, etc.) are Broadway theatres. 

What about the quality? 

While it's certainly a regularly-voiced opinion that Broadway theatres produce the highest standard of theatre in New York City, this opinion is just that, an opinion, and is 100% open to interpretation. It all depends on personal preferences.

I adore Broadway, but some of the best theatre I've ever seen were smaller scale productions. 

What is Off Broadway?

According to Offbroadway.com, Off Broadway theatre "is theatre created year-round, all over the isle of Manhattan, in theatres with seating between 100 and 499 seats. Off Broadway is innovative musicals and prize-winning plays; it is one-person shows and spectacular events; it is record-breaking, familiar shows and not-to-be-missed limited runs."

So...what does that all mean?

For a Manhattan theatre to be considered Off Broadway, its house must contain between 100-499 seats. If a theatre meets these requirements, assume it's Off-Broadway. And if you have any doubts, just give the theatre a Google. 

What about the quality? 

Off Broadway productions are generally considered to be a rung below Broadway productions in terms of quality. However, this is also entirely subjective.

If you need convincing, just remember that hits like Fun Home, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen, all started their runs in Off Broadway theatres...

What is off-Off Broadway?

According to Theatermania.com, "off-Off Broadway" is a catchall term for any professional or semi-professional theatrical event in New York City staged in a house with fewer than 100 seats."

So...what does that all mean?

When in doubt, assume that any New York City theatre with fewer than 100 seats is an  off-Off Broadway theatre.  Off-Off Broadway productions are not confined to the borough of Manhattan, with venues scattered over all of the five boroughs of New York City.

What about the quality? 

Off-Off Broadway productions are often thought of as amateur when compared to Off Broadway and Broadway productions. The venues are smaller, there is little to no budget, not to mention that the actors get paid little to nothing as well. But contrary to popular belief, the quality of off-Off Broadway productions is as varied as the productions themselves. And all thoughts and views are totally up to the audience members. 

I, for one, am a huge fan of off-Off Broadway. Off-Off Broadway tends to be the breeding ground for tons of experimenting, and the shows usually offer the most affordable tickets a person can find for New York City theatre. And it's hard to beat that.

Looking for a Broadway, Off Broadway, or off-Off Broadway show?