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What is Broadway?

The History Of Broadway

Pun Bandhu (Broadway Producer) gives expert video advice on: What is Broadway?; How did Broadway get started?; Were the Broadway theatres always near midtown? and more...

How did Broadway get started?

What we think of today as Broadway didn't really get its start until a few entrepreneurs decided to move theaters away from the downtown area the Wall Street area where people usually congregated and instead the Mallorys' were the first ones to build the Madison Square Theater and that was in 1882. That was on 29th street I believe and nobody thought it would be successful because it was so far out from town. But then The Casino Theater was built shortly and it was a huge success and that just brought in the Abby Theater followed suit, the Empire Theater and pretty soon you had a section of town that featured the best in live entertainment and that just drew the towns' people out. It really changed the entire city actually of Manhattan.

Were the Broadway theatres always near midtown?

No. In the early 19th century, around 1810, the theaters were all centered around Battery toward Greenwich or Harlem to Sheeps Meadow past Wall Street and Maiden Lane. And near City Hall, where City Hall is today actually, there is a famous theater called The Park Theater on Park Row. And in 1821, The Bowery Theater was built on the Bowery just around the same time that the migration to what's now known as midtown started.

Are all Broadway theatres located on Broadway?

No, in fact there are only four theatres that are located on the stretch of Broadway. There is the Marquis Theatre. That is at 46th. There is the Palace at 47th, the Winter Garden at 50th, and also the Broadway Theatre on 53rd. All the other Broadway houses are either east or west of that stretch.

Where did theatre originate?

Theatre is probably one of the oldest art forms alive. Up there with, cave man drawings on caves... It's really is primal, it speaks to--ever since man became aware of himself as a society, ever since he started questioning who he was, where he came from, how he related to his fellow man there has been theatre. It originated with dancers, primitive dancers trying to ward off evil spirits. We really have to thank the Greeks for establishing what we now know is the structure of a well made play.

Is every play performed in New York considered a Broadway play?

No, not at all. In fact, there are only 39 official Broadway houses and there are hundreds and hundreds of productions that occur in New York. So aside from, officially the Broadway houses, there's the off-Broadway houses. As I said before, size of theater is usually what is used to determine the category that you're considered. So a Broadway house has 499 seats and above, an off-Broadway house is between 199 seats and 499, and an Off-Off-Broadway house is anything below 99, and these houses are scattered throughout the city; not just the city, in Queens, in Brooklyn there's also a huge cultural richness in New York and the vary from in different levels from the very professional productions to showcases of actors that have just gotten out of school looking for an agent and it runs the gamut from very traditional fair to really edgy, artistic experimental theater, so there's something for everyone here in New York.

How many theatres are on Broadway now?

There are 39 official Broadway houses on Broadway right now. And each year, there are a different number of productions that play depending on production set close and open within the same season. This past season there were 35 new productions and in addition to that, of course there are the standards of Broadway, the long runners. The Phantom of The Opera, Rent, which just celebrated it's ten year anniversary.

What is Off-Broadway?

Off-Broadway is theater that takes place in a smaller theater, between 199 seats and 499 seats. They are spread all throughout New York and they typically tend to present or highlight edgier fare, niche markets that might not appeal universally across the board, that would not have as wide an audience as you would need to fill a 1000-seat or 2000-seat theater on Broadway. It's really an opportunity to catch stuff off the beaten path, so to speak. They encompass all the way from 1-person shows to full out musicals, productions by nonprofits, and also commercial theater productions. Although, the economic paradigm of producing off-Broadway has shifted a lot, to the point where it's become almost impossible to produce commercial theater off-Broadway. It's become increasingly difficult, let's just put it that way. Costs skyrocket, and at the same time when you place an ad in the New York Times, you're paying about the same amount that a Broadway show would have to do, if it's the same size. So somewhere along the lines there are diminishing returns. The audience that's traditionally gone to see off-Broadway plays has diminished, which is a real shame. There is the misperception that things that are on Broadway are naturally better than the things that are off-Broadway, which is not always the case. It's just different types of offerings, really. So really off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway have become much more the pervue of the non profits. But I'm still hopeful that things can change.

Can I only see a Broadway show in New York?

No not at all. In fact you can see there are touring companies of Broadway shows all throughout America. I believe last year touring companies alone brought in over 900 million dollars. And in addition to that there are productions all around the country. There are shows that have sit down productions in London, Australia, Japan and then also do international tours all around the world.