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Broadway (and Off-Broadway) Tips: How to Do Theater in NYC

April 5, 2016 - by Griffin Miller, Theatre Editor
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Shakespeare may have written “all the world’s a stage,” but New York is—without question—the world’s stage. Home to 40 Broadway theatres and hundreds of Off- and Off-Off Broadway houses, the Big Apple can easily boast more musicals, dramas, comedies, and theatrical events in a single day than anywhere else on the planet.

New York theatre is also a magnet for celebrities, both onstage and off. Actors who you might only recognize from television and films make a beeline to New York just to add Broadway to their resumes. In addition, every season you can expect to see dozens of Tony winners and nominees bringing musicals and plays—revivals, new creations, and imports—to vibrant life.

As for offstage, let’s just say you might see your favorite big screen superstar, athlete, or recording artist in the audience, at a nearby restaurant, or just strolling down the street...it happens all the time in “the theatre district!”

Read on for our tips on how to make the most of Broadway and theater on a visit to New York City.

how to do broadway theater nyc

How to Do New York Theater: Quick Facts

The Broadway Theatre District is technically West 40th to West 54th Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. Two current Broadway theatres fall outside this geographic area: The Al Hirshfeld, which is slightly west of Eighth Avenue, and the Vivian Beaumont, part of Lincoln Center’s arts complex, located uptown, west of Broadway at 65th St.  

Broadway’s biggest theatre at 1,935 seats is the Gershwin Theatre; the smallest is the Helen Hayes with 597 seats. Minimum size for a Broadway house? 500 seats.

As a rule, a theatre with less than 499 seats and more than 99 seats is considered Off-Broadway. These houses can be located anywhere in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn (the most famous being the Brooklyn Academy of Music, aka BAM) and Queens. About half of all Off-Broadway theatres are commercial or “for profit.”

radio city music hall

Radio City Music Hall

Generally considered event venues, NYC’s mega theatres—The Beacon (2,829 seats), The Theater at Madison Square Garden (2,000 seats) and Radio City Music Hall (at 5,933 seats, the preferred site for the Tony Awards in June)—all are considered Off-Broadway when they host theatrical productions, such as the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

A theatre with less than 100 seats falls into the Off-Off-Broadway category; very few are commercial. Like Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway houses can be anywhere in the city.

On 42nd Street, Theatre Row is home to several Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres; it stretches from Ninth to Eleventh Aves.

A variety of Theatre Festivals are held throughout the year, both Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, many to showcase new works from the U.S. and abroad. Some are mainstream theatre and several span standup comedy, dance, concerts, burlesque, and the like. Frigid New York, for example, lists six or seven festivals annually. Summer months are by far the most popular for festivals with 15 being the usual count, including everything from the Lincoln Center Festival and the Public Theater’s “Free Shakespeare in the Park” to FringeNYC, a multi-arts blowout with 200+ events taking place in August.

How to Do New York Theater: Tickets

tkts times square

TKTS Times Square. Image: Cargo Collective

To ensure getting tickets to a show you absolutely do not want to miss, it’s always best to reserve them ahead of time.

Premium Tickets. For long-running shows that sell out in advance like The Lion King, Wicked, and The Book of Mormon, book your seats as far out as possible. The same is true for a new show with big buzz or a production featuring one or more major stars. Insider Tip: If price is no object, or if you’ve budgeted as much as $400+ per ticket for a specific Broadway show, VIP arrangements can usually be made at the last minute through your hotel’s concierge.

Discounted Tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway. You can purchase these seats (25 to 50% off) the day of the performance at TKTS booths, the most famous being in the heart of Times Square, with satellite booths at South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn. All accept credit cards, cash, travelers checks, or TDF gift certificates and vouchers. Insider Tip:  If you qualify, you can join TDF (Theatre Development Fund—sponsor of TKTS) as an “out-of-towner,” which makes you eligible to buy theater tickets up to three weeks in advance. You can also download a free TKTS App for updated show info or visit tdf.org. Other discount options: most Broadway theatres offer “Student Rush” or lottery tickets, providing same-day access to shows. Even the mighty Hamilton offers $10 lottery seats, if you get lucky. Check online for individual show policies.

How to Do New York Theater: Helpful Tips

on your feet broadway

On Your Feet! Image: Matthew Murphy

When English Is an Issue. Musicals tend to be a better bet than plays, and musicals that you are probably familiar with from film and touring companies. Chicago, Cats, Jersey Boys, School of Rock, and The Phantom of the Opera will likely be the most satisfying. Spectacles—like Cirque du Soleil PARAMOUR, Blue Man Group, and Gazillion Bubble Show are less language-intensive and more visual, as are dance-heavy musicals like On Your Feet! and An American in Paris.

Finally, don’t forget autographs! Following Broadway shows, the cast will sign programs at the stage door; for Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, they will often meet-and-greet in the lobby... just make sure to have a pen ready!

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