What Does "Broadway Theater" Mean?

Theater size, not location, defines whether a theater is a Broadway one or not

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••• Theater District. Mitchell Funk/Getty Images

Lots of people are confused about what exactly defines "Broadway Theater," so we've put together this helpful guide to help you understand the differences between Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters and productions. Theater capacity, and not location, is important in the distinction and it helps make it clearer as to what really distinguishes the different types of theater productions.

Although Broadway is an important street that runs through New York City's Theater District, "Broadway Theater" actually refers to the seating capacity of the theater, as opposed to the theater's location. Broadway theaters can accommodate an audience of 500 or more; Off-Broadway theaters can accommodate 100-499 patrons; Off-Off-Broadway theaters seat less than 100 people.

Because of this, there are many Broadway theaters in New York City that aren't on Broadway, and one that is actually outside of the Theater District at Lincoln Center, but still considered a "Broadway Theater" because of its seating capacity. There are also many "Off-Broadway" theaters located in and just outside of the Theater District, though they are located throughout the city as well.

Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters all produce musicals and plays. There are usually a few Broadway productions featuring a-list celebrities, but many famous actors participate in smaller theater productions as well.

Generally, Broadway shows have the largest audiences and highest ticket prices. These are typically the most involved productions, with extensive sets, costumes, etc. A typical Broadway production costs $10 million or more to produce. Playbill.com maintains the most comprehensive list of Broadway musicals and plays.

Experimental & Intimate Theater in NYC

If you're looking for more experimental productions and more intimate theater experiences, consider exploring Off- and Off-Off Broadway venues and theater companies. These venues typically come with lower ticket prices as well, because their production costs are much lower.

If you want to find Off-Broadway shows, check out the list of Off-Broadway productions from Playbill.com. Some of these are short, limited runs, but there are many long-running Off-Broadway shows, including Avenue Q, Blue Man Group, Naked Boys Singing, Perfect Crime and The Fantasticks.

If you want to find Off-Off-Broadway shows, check out the directory of current Off-Off-Broadway shows on New York Innovative Theater Awards. These shows tend to have shorter runs, so catch them when you can. They include just about anything from Shakespeare to brand-new musicals making their New York City debut.

Saving on Tickets

There are numerous ways to save on theater tickets in New York City, for both those that plan ahead and those that like to be more spontaneous.

  • For planners: There are several different discount ticket websites and email lists that you can subscribe to that provide announcements about various ticket discounts. These are a great option if you don't mind watching what goes on sale and working around any restrictions.
  • For the last-minute types: The three TKTS Booth locations all offer discounted tickets on same-day Broadway and Off-Broadway plays and musicals (matinee tickets are available the day before at the South Street Seaport and Brooklyn locations.)
  • For those that like to try their luck: Some popular shows offer Standing Room only tickets when they are sold out, and other shows offer rush tickets or lotteries for discount show tickets. It's a bit of a gamble, since you don't know if you'll get a ticket, but that's part of the fun!
  • For serious theater lovers: Think about joining The Theater Development Fund (TDF) -- if you qualify for the membership you can get deep discounts on tickets to a wide variety of Broadway, Off-Broadway and musical productions throughout New York City. If you live more than 100 miles from New York City, the membership is just $1/month, meaning just a single show can easily cover the cost of membership. Like other discount programs, not every production is available.