What Is off-Broadway?

A.E. Freeman

Off-Broadway refers to both a location of a theater as well as its size and the plays it produces. Theater produced Off-Broadway generally has less expensive admission prices than Broadway shows, as the theaters are usually not-for-profit and do not need to recoup expenses from ticket prices. Unlike Broadway productions, shows produced off of the Great White Way are not eligible for the Tony Awards.

The term Off-Broadway has more to do with the size of the theater than where it is located, though all Off-Broadway theaters are in  Manhattan.
The term Off-Broadway has more to do with the size of the theater than where it is located, though all Off-Broadway theaters are in Manhattan.

When Off-Broadway first began in the 1950s, the theaters were located away from Broadway, usually downtown New York City. Later, a number of theaters were located on Broadway but met other requirements to be considered Off-Broadway. The term has more to do with the size of the theater than where it is located, though all Off-Broadway theaters must be in Manhattan, New York City.

Off-Broadway performances are typically at smaller theaters.
Off-Broadway performances are typically at smaller theaters.

To be considered Off-Broadway, a theater must have fewer than 500 seats but more than 99. Usually, the theater needs to hire actors and performers under an agreement with Actor's Equity. Actor's Equity sets the minimum salary an actor or stage manager can earn working Off Broadway based on the size of the theater and the production's projected gross.

Although Off-Broadway productions are not eligible for the Tony Awards, they are eligible for a number of other awards, from the Obies to the Drama Desk Awards. The Lucille Lortel Awards are given specifically to Off-Broadway productions. To be eligible for the Lortel Awards, a show must run for at least 21 performances at an appropriately sized theater.

The Lortel Awards began in 1985 by the League of Off-Broadway Theaters and Producers, an organization begun specifically to support Off-Broadway theaters. Categories for the awards include best play, best revival, and best musical. Productions that have won a Lortel Award include The Scottsboro Boys, which won the best musical award in 2010, and Wit, which won outstanding play in 1999.

Off-Broadway theaters include Playwrights Horizons, located on 42nd street. Playwrights Horizons is a theater that is dedicated to developing new works by contemporary American playwrights. Second Stage Theater, on 43rd street, is also dedicated to new works, though its original mission was to reproduce works that did not fare well initially. Other Off-Broadway theaters include the Public Theater and New York Theater Workshop, both of which are located downtown.

A number of plays and musicals have begun life at an Off-Broadway theater and later transferred to a large Broadway theater. The musical A Chorus Line was originally produced at the Public Theater, for example. Other popular transfers include Avenue Q and The 39 Steps.

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Discussion Comments


One of the best things about the New York theatre scene is that what is shown on broadway will almost always make it to Off-Broadway theatres as soon as it gets popular. So don't be disappointed if you can't make it to NYC to catch a show.

While I was living in Canada I remember how excited I was to finally see the stage production of Mama Mia. I had always wanted to see the show as I love the bouncy music and heard that it would be a great introduction to how much fun musicals can be.

On that note, does anyone have any other recommendations for some great Off-Broadway theatre?


Our city is small so our shows could be considered way off Broadway. Though, I will give it to our local theatre group, they really do have some serious talent. I think that when you are first deciding on which place to see a show, if you can't actually make it to Broadway in New York, is to ask around and check local listings.

My friend ended up telling us about our local theatre group and suggested I go see one of their musicals. I figured I would give it a try since there was no chance I could afford to see the NYC Broadway. It was a really pleasant surprise. The sets were good and the performers really gave it there all.


@Subway11- You know if you go to the League of Off Broadway Theaters and Producers website you can get a recommendation on a show based on what your search criteria is. The site also tells you what is nearby for dining options and really has a lot of information on many of these shows.

What I like is that they offer a small excerpt of the show via video streaming that gives you an idea of what the show is like. This is great because even though it is Off Broadway it is still a little expensive with most orchestra seats going for about $90 each. So you definitely want to do your research so that you don’t waste your money on an off Broadway play that is a real dud.


I have gone to many New York Broadway shows and I have to tell you they are really expensive. I think that the shows are worth the money if you are visiting the city on a trip, but if you live in the area I think that off Broadway musicals might be a nice alternative that you can see more often.

Off Broadway shows are really fantastic. They might not have the big names, but they are still entertaining and you will definitely have a better chance of getting tickets for an off Broadway show than for a show on Broadway.

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