Beyond the 40 theaters of Broadway and the 50 or so venues of Off Broadway lies a vast and rocky terrain: about 200 Off-Off Broadway theaters, in downtown Manhattan and throughout New York City, mostly with fewer than 99 seats. This is the R&D wing of the theater world, and it offers a dizzying range of shows, from the most daring and formally innovative experimental companies to amateurs learning their craft and recent college graduates trying hard to put a fresh stamp on Macbeth. Some of NYC’s most exciting theater happens Off-Off Broadway—and tickets are usually $20 or less. But it can be hard to know where to find the good stuff. Here is our list of the 15 Off-Off Broadway theaters where you have the best chances.
RECOMMENDED: See our complete listing of Off-Off Broadway shows
See the venues
There aren’t many entertainment options along Tenth Avenue, but one is worth the trek: a jewel box of a theater with a heady, well-selected repertory of comedy, cabaret and music shows in an environment that’s focused more on the performance than on the cash register at the bar. The monthly variety show Showgasm is an excellent sampler pack of rising talents.
After a recent refurbishment, this downtown stalwart is now one of the most comfortable experimental spaces, what with its cozy lobby café (1 Dominick) and relatively impressive multimedia capacity. The upstairs space—long, wide and low—has played host to recent smashes like Taylor Mac’s epic The Lily’s Revenge, while the downstairs 70-seat black box sees new works by everyone from Karinne Keithley to Tina Satter. HERE’s strength lies in its come-one-come-all attitude, its absurdly generous grant and commissioning programs and a genuine warmth that is largely thanks to the venue’s doyenne and founder, Kristin Marting and the community of artists who call HERE a second home.
This homey 60-seat black box (up some seriously steep stairs) is a mere block and a half from the subway, and only 15 minutes on the L train from Union Square. The space has become one of the best curated spots in the city; it supports up-and-coming stage talent like William Burke and avant-garde veterans such as Target Margin Theater and Cynthia Hopkins, as well as a variety of performance art and multimedia performances.
After losing the lease on his Soho space in 2010, after nearly three decades there, Robert Lyons moved to the landmarked Archive building in the West Village. The new space, home to the summer Ice Factory Festival and much more, remains an indispensable theatrical crucible.
Walk into this revolution-red theater—with its narrow First Floor Theater, its spectacularly barnlike next-door Ellen Stewart Theatre and the groovy attic Club Theater—and you are transported back in time to the New York scene's ’60s heyday. The mama herself, the late Ellen Stewart, first opened La MaMa's doors in 1961; it has since produced major figures like Tadeusz Kantor, Andrei Serban and Ping Chong, along with younger multicultural, dance-theater and avant-garde artists.
Alicia Keys, Martha Graham, Jackson Pollack and Denzel Washington are among the artists who have performed, trained or taught workshops and classes at Abrons Art Center/Henry Street Settlement, an arts venue in the far reaches of the Lower East Side. The complex includes the 300-seat Playhouse (a pretty, blond-wood auditorium with a proscenium stage), the 100-seat black box Experimental Theater and another 99-seat Underground Theater, all of which are for rent.
This theater looks like what it once was: a 19th-century school auditorium. Painted a lovely Russian blue and still echoing slightly with teenagers past, the 99-seat Connelly has a pretty proscenium and a pressed-tin ceiling—a surprising jewel box well off the beaten track. Productions that have made a stir here include Anne Washburn’s ghost-infested Apparition and Lucy Thurber’s Monstrosity, which made full use of the balcony and the seemingly limitless space.
This chic, state-of-the-art venue, which comprises an Off Broadway space and two smaller theaters, is home to a lot of worthy programming, such as the annual Brits Off Broadway festival, which imports some of the U.K.’s best work for brief summer runs. The venue boasts three separate playing spaces. Theater A, on the ground floor, seats 196 people; upstairs are the 98-seat Theater B and a 70-seat black-box space, Theater C.
Not to be confused with 3 Legged Dog (the multimedia production group that founded this space), 3LD is a giant, low-ceilinged room with a space-age, tubular white entrance and a curating penchant for technologically adventurous, video-prone work. Since the venue can be stripped back to concrete walls (and heavy gray curtains), shows can construct entire rooms-within-the-room.
This eco-conscious 90-seat rental and production space is a standout, with its stunning wood-and-concrete construction (oozing with green technologies), sweet art gallery and even—when do you rhapsodize about this downtown?—a wonderful bathroom. Since openig in 2007, it has hosted several notable works, including Samuel D. Hunter's A Bright New Boise and the musical 33 to Nothing.
Nearly 30 years after it started hosting experimental performances in a loft on the Bowery, this plucky organization has finally opened its gorgeous new space a few blocks away on the Lower East Side. A lounge, mainstage theater and studio all support the work of emerging artists, including the annual Hot! festival of work with LGBT themes.
Founded in 1996, this cozy, well-appointed black-box venue has presented avant-garde experimentation (such as the work of cofounder Mac Wellman) and politically provocative satires (by the likes of A.R. Gurney and Jonathan Reynolds). A 40-seat, Off-Off Broadway basement theater is home to the Flea’s resident young acting company, the Bats.
Brian Rogers and Sheila Lewandowski founded this 5000-square-foot perfomance venue in Long Island City in 2005, converting a onetime hardware store into two spaces: a low-ceilinged downstairs room and a loftier, brighter upstairs white box. The Factory is not for rent: Rogers curates his season, inviting artists (from midcareer playwrights like Mac Wellman to rising directors like Alice Reagan) onboard—and the space pays them. It's a welcoming spot (buy your chocolate chip cookies at the box office), and it won an Obie for its programming, which tends towards the highly physical, the interdisciplinary and the avant-garde.
This scrappy 70-seat space—an erstwhile garage—popped into the theatrical scene in 2002, squished into a vanishingly tiny spot on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. Its founders, Robert Honeywell and Michael Gardner, have maintained a rattling schedule of tartly themed summer festivals (such as the Moral Values Festival), pieces by low-budget, high-concept avant-gardists like the Debate Society and Ian W. Hill, and works helmed by Honeywell and Gardner themselves.
Founded in 2012, this arts center is led by artistic director Alec Duffy (Three Pianos, Shadows). The space's mission is to serve as a cultural hub in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, presenting cutting-edge theater, music and dance performances, expanding access to the arts, bridging audiences and educating youth. Obie-winning theater troupe Hoi Polloi is the resident company.