by: Ansley Moore
The technical difference between Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre is the amount of seats in the house. A Broadway theater must have a house of at least 500 seats, while an Off-Broadway theater has between 100-499 seats. Both types of theaters must be located in Manhattan, the geographic stipulation to be considered any sort of “Broadway”.
This distinction shocked me because I was under the impression that the difference would lie in professionalism. It’s a misconception I’ve held all my life, even joking on more than one occasion that some silly skit my friends and I made was opening Off-Broadway next week. But looking back it was incredibly unfair for me to make that judgement because until this past interim I had never seen any Off-Broadway production before. And after attending my first Off-Broadway show- Avenue Q- and the only real difference between that show and every other Broadway show I’ve seen was the house size (as aforementioned) and the budget. The financial gap was made more apparent to me because just days earlier FRA had taken the whole group to see Aladdin, which was truly a spectacle of “Disney Magic”. There was a cast of thirty six people and each one was in spectacularly intricate and detailed costumes, wigs, and makeup that were constantly changing into something more extravagant. They were working with an incredibly versatile set that moved on its own and further conveyed the grandeur of the story. Every cast member has probably spent more time in dance classes than I have spent on Earth because every dance move, stunt, flip, and whatever else was executed to perfection. And the moment when the magic carpet really flew across the stage the whole audience gasped as one. It was truly breathtaking to witness (if only casting could have made the experience my ears had listening to Aladdin sing equally as pleasurable…).
Meanwhile, Avenue Q only had one big set piece that could be manipulated in small ways to convey a new location. Rather than give the eleven person cast extravagant costumes (they were all dressed in black jeans and t-shirts) they were all given an extravagant amount of puppets to work with. There are thirty four puppets in the whole show with some cast members operating as few as five ranging to one of the ensemble tracks (known as the “second handler”) having to operate every single one of them at some point during the show. And the casting department for Avenue Q definitely pulled their weight in choosing performers for such a small show because every actor was perfectly cast and I spent all of intermission gushing about how incredible all of their voices were. The show wasn’t choreographed so much as it was stylized. There were no giant “Friend Like Me” dance breaks, but there was never a disconnect between an actor and their puppet. Even though the expression of the puppets obviously couldn’t change, it felt like you could watch the puppet’s mood shift over the course of a scene just because of how specific the actors were able to make the body language of their puppets match how they (the actor) were moving through that scene.
And even beyond things that we could see on stage, the difference between the scale of the two productions was revealed through things like one of the ensemble members of Avenue Q also being the Assistant Stage Manager to help out their one Production Stage Manager and Stage Manager, while Aladdin needed a PSM, an SM, and three ASMs in order to get through their show. Ticket price also helps to reveal scale because our Aladdin tickets were around $80 each (and those were group tickets so they were cheaper than they would have been if we bought each ticket individually) and we were on the third floor balcony of a theatre that seats 1,702 people- so we were nowhere close to the stage. But for only ten more dollars at Avenue Q we were able to buy individual tickets for front row center, which is considered by most to be the “best seats in the house”. On the other hand, the smaller scale of Avenue Q made it possible for them to host an event like Puppet Prom after the show in honor of National Puppetry Day. Audience members brought their own personal puppets to mingle with puppets from the show, and those of us without our own puppets were given a pair of puppet eyes to join the party with (and based on the picture, you can clearly tell that some of us were more excited about this than others). So if you’re in New York, don’t discount Off-Broadway theatre as a way to take in a show!