What's the Difference Between a Broadway and Off-Broadway Show?

iStock/RightFramePhotoVideo
iStock/RightFramePhotoVideo

Over the years, there's been a lot of debate about what should and shouldn't count as a Broadway play or musical. Still, it's widely agreed that, in order to qualify, a production needs to run at a Broadway theater.

In general, a Broadway theater is defined as one that's located in Manhattan and seats at least 500 people. (Actually being located on Broadway is not a requirement.) Those on the island with 100 to 499 seats are regarded as "Off-Broadway" venues. Meanwhile, establishments with 99 seats or fewer are deemed "Off-Off-Broadway."

If the facility hosts concerts and dance shows more often than it does plays or musicals, it isn't considered a Broadway theater, regardless of the seating situation. Because of this, Carnegie Hall doesn't make the cut—even though the main auditorium has way more than 500 seats (2804, to be precise).

How many Broadway theaters are in Manhattan proper? The industry's national trade association is known as the Broadway League, and, at present, they only recognize 41 legitimate Broadway theaters—with the majority sitting between West 40th and West 53rd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. By comparison, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway stages are more widely dispersed throughout New York City.

Every year, the Broadway League joins forces with the American Theatre Wing to administer one of the Big Apple's biggest celebrations: The Tony Awards. To be eligible for these prizes, a show must open at a Broadway League-certified Broadway theater at some point in the current season before a designated cut-off date (which for this year was April 25).

Given these rules, the Awards completely ignore Off-Broadway productions. But this doesn't mean that you should. Some of the most popular shows ever conceived started out at Off-Broadway venues. For example, the original production of Little Shop of Horrors opened in 1982 and ran for five years without ever making it to the Great White Way—although a Broadway revival did pop up in 2003.

For many productions, Off-Broadway is a stepping stone. Just a few months after opening up at smaller theaters, Hair, A Chorus Line, and, more recently, Hamilton all made the jump to a Broadway stage.

That transition isn't always easy. Often, new sets have to be built and, sometimes, key players have to be re-cast. Furthermore, as producer Gerald Schoenfeld told Playbill in 2008, the Off-Broadway venue where it all began won't want to be left "high and dry" after the show leaves. "[You'll] probably have to make arrangements with the originating theater," he says, "which probably would require a royalty and possible percentage of net profits."

Broadway productions also come with much higher price tags. When you factor in things like talent fees, rehearsals, and marketing, the average Broadway play costs millions of dollars to produce. An estimate from The New York Times says a Broadway show costs "at least $2.5 million to mount," while larger-scale musicals fall in the $10 million to $15 million range. Playbill broke down the costs for staging the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots in 2013, which cost $13.5 million to get off the ground.

Unsurprisingly, it's become quite difficult to turn a profit on the Great White Way. According to the Broadway League, only one in five Broadway shows breaks even. Furthermore, those lucky few that actually make money have to run for an average of two years before doing so.

As they say, there's no business like show business …

This story was updated in 2019.

Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

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Grocery Stores vs. Supermarkets: What’s the Difference?

gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images
gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images

These days, people across the country are constantly engaging in regional term debates like soda versus pop and fireflies versus lightning bugs. Since these inconsistencies are so common, you might have thought the only difference between a grocery store and a supermarket was whether the person who mentioned one was from Ohio or Texas. In reality, there are distinctions between the stores themselves.

To start, grocery stores have been around for much longer than supermarkets. Back when every town had a bakery, a butcher shop, a greengrocery, and more, the grocery store offered townspeople an efficient shopping experience with myriad food products in one place. John Stranger, vice president group supervisor of the food-related creative agency EvansHardy+Young, explained to Reader’s Digest that the grocer would usually collect the goods for the patron, too. This process might sound familiar if you’ve watched old films or television shows, in which characters often just hand over their shopping lists to the person behind the counter. While our grocery store runs may not be quite so personal today, the contents of grocery stores remain relatively similar: Food, drinks, and some household products.

Supermarkets, on the other hand, have taken the idea of a one-stop shop to another level, carrying a much more expansive array of foodstuffs as well as home goods, clothing, baby products, and even appliances. This is where it gets a little tricky—because supermarkets carry many of the same products as superstores, the next biggest fish in the food store chain, which are also sometimes referred to as hypermarkets.

According to The Houston Chronicle, supermarkets and superstores both order inventory in bulk and usually belong to large chains, whereas grocery stores order products on an as-needed basis and are often independently owned. Superstores, however, are significantly larger than either grocery stores or supermarkets, and they typically look more like warehouses. It’s not an exact science, and some people might have conflicting opinions about how to categorize specific stores. For example, Walmart has a line of Walmart Neighborhood Markets, which its website describes as “smaller-footprint option[s] for communities in need of a pharmacy, affordable groceries, and merchandise.” They’re not independently owned, but they do sound like grocery stores, especially compared to Walmart’s everything-under-the-sun superstore model.

Knowing the correct store terms might not always matter in casual conversation, but it could affect your credit card rewards earnings. American Express, for example, offers additional rewards on supermarket purchases, and it has a specific list of stores that qualify as supermarkets, including Gristedes, Shoprite, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods. Target and Walmart, on the other hand, are both considered superstores, so you won’t earn bonuses on those purchases.

And, since grocery shopping at any type of store can sometimes seem like a competitive sport, here’s the ideal time to go.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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