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This question comes from Lauren Reese of State College, PA.
Answer: Many AskPlaybill.com readers have asked versions of this question, and in order to answer it completely, we're going to split it into two parts: Today we'll describe the differences between Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Next week, Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman of the Shubert Organization, will take us through the process of transferring a show from Off-Broadway to Broadway.
First, there are 39 theatres that the Broadway community generally knows to be the Broadway theatres. These are the theatres that the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League (formerly the League of American Theatres and Producers) have deemed eligible for the Tony Awards. These are also the theatres that appear on the Broadway box-office charts at Playbill.com and in Variety, and whose shows appear in the "Broadway" listings of Playbill.com.
These theatres are also, more or less, the theatres in New York that must abide by Actors' Equity's "Production" contracts (touring Broadway shows abide by those contracts as well). The only exceptions are the theatres run by non-profit companies — the Vivian Beaumont, the Biltmore, the American Airlines and Studio 54 — which are on their own separate "LORT A" contract.
So, how are these theatres different from Off-Broadway theatres? Generally, the Broadway theatres are all in a certain area on the west side of Manhattan, from the Nederlander on 41st Street up to the Vivian Beaumont at 65th Street, while Off-Broadway theatres are scattered around Manhattan. Broadway theatres all have at least 500 seats, while Off-Broadway theatres have 100 to 499 seats. Theatres with 99 and below are considered Off Off- Broadway.
There are exceptions: Some 500-plus theatres in the Broadway area, such as Carnegie Hall, City Center and the Nokia Theatre, are not considered "Broadway" because they present music and/or dance more often than they present theatre. Some might consider the Shakespeare in the Park shows in the Delacorte and City Center Encores! series to be "Off-Broadway," even though they're in venues with more than 500 seats.
Note that all shows that are eligible for the Lortel Awards — run by the League of Off-Broadway Theaters and Producers — are considered Off-Broadway. Though, that's by no means the exhaustive list of Off-Broadway shows, since Lortel Awards have various other requirements.
There are other differences, of course: Ticket prices are higher on Broadway, and the costs of creating and running a show are also higher. Initial costs of an Off-Broadway musical might be, say, $1 million (the figure for Altar Boyz), while for a Broadway show the cost is more like $14 million (the figure for Wicked), and some are even more. Weekly running costs of an Off-Broadway musical are typically in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, while running costs of a Broadway musical are typically $250,000 to $650,000.
On Broadway, sets are bigger, construction costs are higher, more personnel is required, and everyone's salaries are higher. For instance, for Broadway actors, the minimum salary required is $1,509 a week, while Off-Broadway it ranges from $525 (for theatres 100 to 199 seats) to $927 (351 to 499 seats).