Off-Broadway refers to both a location of a theater as well as its size and the plays it produces. Theater produced Off-Broadway generally has less expensive admission prices than Broadway shows, as the theaters are usually not-for-profit and do not need to recoup expenses from ticket prices. Unlike Broadway productions, shows produced off of the Great White Way are not eligible for the Tony Awards.
When Off-Broadway first began in the 1950s, the theaters were located away from Broadway, usually downtown New York City. Later, a number of theaters were located on Broadway but met other requirements to be considered Off-Broadway. The term has more to do with the size of the theater than where it is located, though all Off-Broadway theaters must be in Manhattan, New York City.
To be considered Off-Broadway, a theater must have fewer than 500 seats but more than 99. Usually, the theater needs to hire actors and performers under an agreement with Actor's Equity. Actor's Equity sets the minimum salary an actor or stage manager can earn working Off Broadway based on the size of the theater and the production's projected gross.
Although Off-Broadway productions are not eligible for the Tony Awards, they are eligible for a number of other awards, from the Obies to the Drama Desk Awards. The Lucille Lortel Awards are given specifically to Off-Broadway productions. To be eligible for the Lortel Awards, a show must run for at least 21 performances at an appropriately sized theater.
The Lortel Awards began in 1985 by the League of Off-Broadway Theaters and Producers, an organization begun specifically to support Off-Broadway theaters. Categories for the awards include best play, best revival, and best musical. Productions that have won a Lortel Award include The Scottsboro Boys, which won the best musical award in 2010, and Wit, which won outstanding play in 1999.
Off-Broadway theaters include Playwrights Horizons, located on 42nd street. Playwrights Horizons is a theater that is dedicated to developing new works by contemporary American playwrights. Second Stage Theater, on 43rd street, is also dedicated to new works, though its original mission was to reproduce works that did not fare well initially. Other Off-Broadway theaters include the Public Theater and New York Theater Workshop, both of which are located downtown.
A number of plays and musicals have begun life at an Off-Broadway theater and later transferred to a large Broadway theater. The musical A Chorus Line was originally produced at the Public Theater, for example. Other popular transfers include Avenue Q and The 39 Steps.