There are myriad types of professional theater out there, and people who aren’t familiar with the vernacular of the business may not understand the various terms used to identify them. Words like Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and West End are repeatedly discussed on theater websites and in periodicals, but it can be confusing for the novice enthusiast to sort out the differences among the four. Here are some general rules and identifiers that will help you better understand the main branches of professional theater.
One might wonder about Broadway’s auspicious beginnings. It is generally agreed upon that the New York City theater scene started in the 1700s when the first New York City stage opened on Nassau Street. In 1798, the first large venue (the Park Theatre, with more than 300 seats) was built on Chatham Street, but that was in Downtown Manhattan, nowhere near what we would consider the Broadway of today. It would not be until after the Civil War that the center of New York theater would move to Midtown Manhattan where most of the Broadway theatres of today stand. The grouping of these ornate buildings with bright lights led to Broadway being dubbed “The Great White Way.” Broadway theatres have come and gone over the years, but new ones are occasionally established. The most recent addition to the conclave of Broadway houses is the Hudson Theatre, which was reopened in 2017, though it had been built in 1903 and used a professional theatre venue, first as a radio and television studio, then as a rock club and a convention center.
But what defines a Broadway theatre?
A Broadway house typically must have 500 seats or more. What some people may not know is that it is not a requirement that a theatre reside on Broadway for it to be considered a Broadway house. In fact, only a handful of Broadway’s theatres actually reside on the famous thoroughfare (those are the Marquis, the Winter Garden, and the Broadway). It is, however, generally expected that a theatre must reside within a certain radius of Broadway for it to be considered a Broadway venue. This is known as the Theatre District and it extends from West 40th Street to West 54th Street, and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. It is important to note that not every theatre in this block is a Broadway house, and there are certain exceptions to the rule, including Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, which is several blocks north of 54th Street and is still considered a Broadway theatre.
And then there are the contracts the production has with the unions (Actors’ Equity Association, United Scenic Artists, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Dramatist’s Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, American Federation of Musicians) involved in the production. Broadway productions are required to employ union members unless special arrangements are made, usually requiring the stamp of approval from the specific union that addresses that particular area of expertise. There are many requirements of a Broadway show that are defined by what a union demands. There is no one explanation of what specifically makes a theatre a “Broadway” theatre, or a show a “Broadway” show. All of these factors come into play when putting that puzzle together.
So, what is the difference between a Broadway show and an Off-Broadway show? There are plenty of other professional theater productions in New York City that are housed in venues that are not considered part of Broadway per se. The Off-Broadway movement launched in the 1950s as a reaction to expensive venues in the Broadway District. The cost of mounting a Broadway show was high, and that resulted in higher ticket prices, so it became imperative for smaller and more experimental shows to have places to perform that were cost-friendly. One of the first Off-Broadway productions of renown was the 1954 revival of The Threepenny Opera. Off-Broadway houses were typically (and conveniently) located adjacent to what was considered Broadway.
The venues that became Off-Broadway houses varied in their origins. Some had served as vaudeville and burlesque houses, but as those entertainment forms faded with the advent of film and television, the empty spaces made convenient homes for Off-Broadway theatres. Other Off-Broadway theatres were carved out of empty lofts, warehouses, and other unconventional spaces.
What is an Off-Broadway show today? Any of those professional productions that reside in theatres within New York City, whose contracts define them as Off-Broadway productions, and that have theatres with a range of 99 to 499 seats, can be considered Off-Broadway. Obviously there are (once again) exceptions, but these are the benchmarks by which you can usually define Off-Broadway.
One other point that differentiates a Broadway show from an Off-Broadway show is how they are treated during awards season. Only Broadway shows can be nominated for Tony Awards (unless a special award is being handed out that requires an exception). Broadway and Off-Broadway shows can be nominated for Drama Desk Awards. Meanwhile, the Obie Awards celebrate the best in only Off-Broadway plays and musicals. Often, if a show is successful Off-Broadway it may eventually take the leap to the Broadway stage. The Band’s Visit is an example, but many shows have started Off-Broadway and then transferred, including Hamilton, Avenue Q, Rent, A Chorus Line, Urinetown, and The Scottsboro Boys.
Off-Broadway shows have become synonymous with the idea of pared-down production values (saving on production costs), smaller casts, a limited number of musicians (in the case of musicals), more avant-garde subject matter, and a grittier tone. Again, these are all generalizations and stereotypes as Off-Broadway shows are polished, professional, and often accessible to a wide commercial audience. Some people might think that Off-Broadway theatres are merely there to serve as venues for productions to eventually make the transition to Broadway. Though it is the case that some shows might have this goal, Off-Broadway does not exist solely as a “workshop space.” Many plays and musicals open Off-Broadway because they are designed for a more-intimate space or it is understood that certain theatrical pieces might have limited appeal and are not expected to have long-term commercial viability.
So, how does this influence ticket prices? In general, the price to see a Broadway show is now averaging at about $109 a ticket. Again, ticket prices are covering the cost of higher rents and in many cases larger production teams, casts, and crews. Off-Broadway ticket prices average between $75 and $80, so there is some savings passed on to the ticket buyer. However, if an Off-Broadway show becomes a must-see hit, it is likely that ticket prices will go up. You are also more likely to pay a little more to see an Off-Broadway musical than an Off-Broadway play.
What was the need for Off-Off-Broadway? The term grew out of the burgeoning theater scene In New York, especially throughout the 1960s, when experimental and avant-garde works could be found around every corner. Initially, Off-Off-Broadway could happen in just about any space you could think of: restaurants, church basements, bars, coffee shops. Off-Off-Broadway venues were often found in Greenwich Village and in other areas of the city that were not close to Midtown. Off-Off-Broadway shows do employ union performers but are not under Broadway, Off-Broadway, or League of Resident Theatres contracts. Of the many plays and musicals to start off in an Off-Off-Broadway space, one of the most well-known is, of course, the rock musical Hair, which eventually moved to Off-Broadway and then Broadway.
Then what exactly is the West End vs. Broadway? Comparing Broadway to the West End is kind of like comparing apples to apples. The two are very similar. The difference is, Broadway refers to New York City and the West End is London’s equivalent. It refers to the West End of London where many large theatres reside, but “West End” is also the term most used to define the highest echelons of great theater in Britain. Just as Broadway represents mainstream professional theater in the larger houses of New York City within a specific proximity, the West End is an area of London where their Broadway-caliber shows are staged. If a show opens on Broadway and it’s advertised that it was a “West End hit!” that means it played London’s West End first before making the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to open in a Broadway house. Many musicals and plays have gotten their starts on the West End before coming to Broadway, including Matilda, The Phantom of the Opera, Amadeus, Groundhog Day, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Les Misérables, Oliver!, Cats, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There are several West End theatres that are well-known, including the Palladium, Her Majesty’s Theatre, The Prince of Wales Theatre, The Adelphi, The Phoenix, The Savoy, and the Piccadilly, to name a few.
In the end, these are all variations on professional theater and no criterion is meant to downplay the assets of the other. Whether you are seeing a Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, or a West End show, you are in for a treat — the transformative power of the theater courtesy of some very talented professionals.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals and maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
Introduction and Your Acceptance of These Terms
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.