For a playwright, having one's play produced on Broadway is the best thing that can happen. After all, only the best of the best make it to the Big Apple. With so many productions fighting for a chance to steal the show, what steps does a play have to take in order to end up on Broadway?
What counts as Broadway?
If you’re interested in theater, you’ve probably heard the terms “Broadway,” “off-Broadway,” and “off-off-Broadway.” To count as an official Broadway production, the show must be performed in a Broadway theater that seats more than 500 people in Manhattan. Broadway theaters don’t necessarily have to be located on the actual street with the famous name, but they do have to be in the city.
The venue also has to be used predominantly for plays. Although Carnegie Hall is in Manhattan and seats more than 500 people, it doesn’t count as an official Broadway venue because it mainly hosts dance shows and concerts.
For most Broadway plays, it can take years or even decades to reach the top. There are a few different paths that a play can take in order to be picked up as a major Broadway production.
Most plays begin their lives as production workshops. Workshops are basically extended practices for a new play. The script and music are written, but nothing is set in stone. During these six to ten-week workshops, the play is refined over hundreds of practices until it’s ready to unveil. Many workshops have minimal budgets and don’t even use costumes, props, or scenery.
Once all the kinks are worked out, the play is performed for potential investors. If the investors are wowed, they might choose to take the production to the next level. If it’s really good, a play can go straight from workshop to Broadway. More frequently, they move to a lower-budget off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway venue.
Both off and off-off-Broadway plays don’t have any location requirements like Broadway plays do. What differentiates the two are the production level and the number of seats in the venue.
Off-Broadway: Plays that take place in venues that seat between 99 and 499 people. They have a much lower budget than Broadway plays, but the actors and production staff are typically paid.
Off-Off-Broadway: Extremely small productions. They take place in venues with fewer than 99 people. The staff is usually unpaid or paid very little.
If a play becomes a must-see hit off-Broadway or even off-off-Broadway, there’s a chance that it could be picked up for a high-budget Broadway adaptation. Starting off-Broadway is a safer way for investors to see if a play has the chops to make it on Broadway before shelling out the money for a true Broadway spectacle.
Towns and cities all over the country have regional playhouses dedicated to performing local productions of plays. These plays don’t always have to be the tried-and-true oldies. Some of them are brand new plays written by local writers or picked up at workshops. If a play can become popular enough at a regional or summer theater, an investor might become interested in producing a Broadway version of the play. “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Finding Neverland” are two major Broadway plays that started in small regional theaters.
Major production in another city
Just because New York has Broadway doesn’t mean it has a monopoly on great play venues. Other major cities have first-class, Broadway-sized venues that are capable of putting on major productions that rival the real thing. Chicago and Washington, D.C. are two major cities known for incredible live productions.
It’s not uncommon for shows to get picked up by a major production in a large city before making their way to Broadway. The popular show “Kinky Boots” had its first major production in Chicago before it was picked up as a Broadway play.