Sunday, July 3, 2011

Off Broadway Vs. Broadway: Theatres & Productions

Off-Broadway Venue: The Orepheum Theatre.
(photo credit: lumierefl/flickr)
There are several differences between Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres in New York City. Though both are professional venues, one difference is the number of seating. Broadway theatres have 500 or more seats and are located in the Times Square theatre district with the lone exception being the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center. Currently there are 40 official Broadway theatres. Off-Broadway theatres have seating between 100-499 and are situated in various locations in Manhattan.

Another difference is in relation to cost. Union costs from actors to backstage workers are lower Off Broadway which in turn helps to keep production costs and ticket prices much lower than for Broadway productions. Therefore it is considered less risky to open a show Off Broadway as production costs on Broadway have ballooned to the $10-$15 million range for big budget musicals. Ticket prices for Off-Broadway productions can top out at $90 and when sold at discount at the TKTS booth is even more of a bargain. Broadway ticket prices for musicals are pushing the $150 top price point not counting premium priced tickets.

With the low operating costs and smaller investment, Off-Broadway shows tend to have limited runs whereas most Broadway shows have the intention of extending their run as long as possible as it may take a year or two or longer to gain profitability. Though often when movie stars are involved, many Broadway shows have definite closing dates.

One of the newer venues, the New World Stages includes
five distinct theatres to hold off-Broadway productions.
(photo credit: ahisgett/flickr)
Sometimes a show that premieres Off Broadway proves so popular that producers feel confident to invest in moving the show to a Broadway venue. Some recent productions that have made the move from Off Broadway to a legitimate Broadway theatre include: ‘In the Heights’ (2008), ‘Spring Awakening’ (2007) and ‘Avenue Q’ (2004). These three titles have the won the Tony Award for best musical which brings up another point of difference. Only shows that open at a Broadway theatre will be considered for a Tony Award nomination.

One recent trend is productions closing on Broadway and then soon moving to Off Broadway to extend their runs due to the lower weekly operating costs. Among these productions include ‘Avenue Q’, ‘The 39 Steps’ and ‘Million Dollar Quartet’.

When I travel to New York my intention is to see the new Broadway productions. However I sometimes am able to accommodate an Off-Broadway show that peaks my interest. If often helps that Off-Broadway venues have irregular theatre schedules which include evening performances on Sunday and Monday nights when most Broadway theatres are dark. Also don’t be surprised to find some popular movie or television actors performing in an Off Broadway venue rather than in a Broadway house.

Although not many, some of the Off-Broadway productions I have seen include: ‘Stomp’ at the Orpheum Theatre in 1995, ‘Perfect Crime’ at the now-closed Duffy Square Theatre in 1995, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ starring Calista Flockhart (“Ally McBeal”) at the Westside Theatre in 2000 and an edition of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ in 2003. Added to this list today is ‘Death Takes a Holiday’ at the Laura Pels Theatre. This show and theatre is covered in the next three posts.

One of the off-Broadway theatres to be located in the theatre district and
on Broadway is the Snapple Theater Center current home to the
musical 'The Fantasticks'
(photo credit: dancer_85/flickr)


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