Everything You Wanted to Know About Seeing Theater in NYC
There’s one thing that almost all aspiring actors, singers, and dancers have in common: They dream of performing in New York. The Big Apple has been synonymous with the entertainment industry for practically its entire modern history and has birthed one of the world’s greatest theater districts. As you prepare to experience the city’s world-class performing-arts scene, read our below guide for insider tips and tricks on buying tickets, knowing the difference between Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters, and more.
Broadway or Off-Broadway?
It’s important to know that whether a theater is Broadway or off-Broadway is based on whether it has 500-plus seats; it is not a function of its location, despite the name. Because the bigger theaters receive the more prestigious and buzzed-about shows, being on vs. off-Broadway is seen as a signifier of prestige, and Broadway shows are more prestigious and iconic. However, it’s equally important to note that Broadway shows often originate off Broadway. In fact, two of the most Tony-award-winning shows of all time started off Broadway: “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” So “going off-Broadway” can be a great way to see tomorrow’s Broadway hits at cheaper prices and in a more intimate setting. Just do the necessary research (below) to predict what these shows will be.
Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway venues are also known to attract more of an edgy, indie, experimental type of show, so if you’re into experimental theater, start with these.
Where and When to Buy Tickets
Where and when to buy a ticket depends on a variety of factors. If you’re intent on seeing a specific show on a specific date, it’s best to buy from the theater directly (always comparing the prices for different seating areas) or a resale site like NYTix. If you’re flexible on the dates, you have tons of other options, like “rushing” a show for discounted same-day tickets or entering a same-day ticket lottery that can give you a $100-800 ticket for as little as $10. If you’re flexible on the seating, you can opt to sit in a “transition area” (directly next to the expensive seats) or choose SRO (standing-room only).
Which Shows to See
To get a sense of the best shows in the city during your visit, we recommend reading theater reviews in publications like The New York Times and Variety. If you’re comparing shows that have been around for more than a year, you can also look at whether any of them ended up receiving awards in their respective category: the Tonys for Broadway shows and the OBIES for Off-Broadway shows. Awards are only given within a year of the show’s debut (unless it’s a revival, in which case it’s given the year it is revived).
Word of mouth is also always a good point of reference, and “big-name” actors (e.g., Audra McDonald, Christine Ebersole, Nathan Lane) typically align themselves with only the highest-quality playwrights and directors, so it’s useful to research where they’re performing.
When to See Them
Now that you know which shows to see, you’re probably wondering when to see them. As the shows themselves are generally the same year round (e.g., they don’t vary by season or time of year), this should be more a function of when you were able to find the least expensive ticket. However, if you have your heart set on seeing a certain actor in a given role, you should also ensure they’re not going to be absent/”understudied” on the day you see it. The best way to do this is to check the show’s website or Twitter account for announcements about lead actors’ upcoming absences.
If you’re visiting the city to catch a performance or two, consider the exclusive offers at The Excelsior Hotel to make the most of your trip.