New York City is a very exciting place. For many people, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building come to mind when they think of New York. For others, their minds turn to Broadway and the talent that is showcased there. What is unknown to much of the general public is that the great city of New York holds so much to see and do outside of the traditional and very popular landmarks like these.

One of most interesting and unknown parts of New York City is the world of Off-Off-Broadway theater. The Off-Off-Broadway movement started in 1958 as a reaction to the growth and success of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Some people were rejecting the idea of commercial theater and wanted to bring back the rawest forms of acting and stagecraft. This do-it-yourself aesthetic quickly caught on, and so began the rise of Off-Off-Broadway shows being performed in basements, coffee shops, and even garages. The term “indie theater” has often been used to describe the works produced in the world of Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Broadway vs Off Broadway

New York City is full of theaters and theater companies. The theaters on Broadway are designed to house massive audiences, and they are also designed to host shows for long periods of time. The shows on Broadway have contracts in place that typically determine the run of a show and who is to be paid what during that time.

On the other hand, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway shows tend to be less rigidly planned. In general, you can tell a Broadway show from an Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway show by the seating. If the theater can hold a maximum of 99 seats, it is considered to be Off-Off-Broadway. Theaters that hold anywhere from 99 to 499 audience members are considered to be Off-Broadway, and theaters with more than 499 seats are considered to be Broadway venues.

Unique & Rich Character

There are a sizable number of little-known and unknown theaters in New York City that are producing a variety of intriguing and avant-garde plays.

off broadway stage

For instance, HERE in SoHo caters to a unique audience with every show that they host. From underwater puppetry to a Kabuki performance featuring punk-rock music, no two HERE shows are alike. Similarly, The Flea is another theater not many theatergoers are likely to have heard of. This Off-Off-Broadway theater was founded by Jim Simpson, a widely known and respected director, with the help of Kyle Chepulis, a designer, and the playwright Mac Wellman. The trio has developed The Flea as a place where audiences come to be intrigued. Many times, the casts of the plays put on at The Flea feature notable celebrities, including Sigourney Weaver and John Lithgow, making this venue a good one to visit for New York tourists seeking out the rich and famous.

new york off broadway

There are plenty of other theaters in the Off-Off-Broadway realm that are worth a look as well, such as La MaMa. This institution, which now includes three theaters as well as an art gallery, started out in a tiny basement and today supports risk-taking theater productions, including multi-disciplinary works including dance, music, and performance art. Numerous famous performers have gotten their start at La MaMa, including David and Amy Sedaris, Philip Glass, Harvey Fierstein, Blue Man Group, and Sam Shepard.

Diverse Selection of Entertainment

No matter what you see Off-Off-Broadway or which venue you visit to see it, you are sure to be entertained. Rather than sticking to the familiar big-name actors and glitzy stage productions of Broadway, venture to Off-Off-Broadway theaters to see talented, unknown actors and performers who might just be the big stars of tomorrow.

dancers

dancers in black and white

After all, a fair number of big Broadway shows have started as experimental, Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway productions before they were polished and perfected enough for the Great White Way, and a significant number of famous playwrights mounted their first New York productions Off-Broadway, including David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, and Samuel Beckett. When you take a step outside of the norm and look into the areas of New York that are not familiar to you, you might be surprised at what you’ll find or even get a glimpse at the next big thing.

stage in new york off broadway show

off broadway cabaret

List of Off Broadway Theaters

Not-For-Profit Off-Broadway Theaters: