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Our guide to ‘Theater’ vs ‘Theatre’

First Published 4 July 2018, Last Updated 4 July 2018

It’s a magnificent date in the transatlantic calendar, as our American friends from ‘across the pond’ celebrate their 4 July holiday, also known as Independence Day.

And among many things that we share lies a love of all things theatrical and on-stage, with the fabulous world of Broadway the direct equivalent to our beloved West End. So, paying due homage to our American brothers and sisters on this special day, here’s our quick guide to translating between the worlds of ‘theater’ and ‘theatre’…

Broadway says: 11 O’Clock Number
We say: Showstopper

Everybody has their favourite, but only some of us sing it in the shower.

Regardless, that ridiculously catchy song, that magnificent musical pinnacle, that spectacular near-end-of-show climax which blows audiences away night after night, and quite literally stops the show for their applause, is, in Broadway circles, called the ’11 O’Clock Number’ (referring to the usual time of the number’s appearance, in the days when performances opened at 8.30pm).

Broadway says: Attendant
We say: Usher

When there are a fair few seats to fill (Broadway theaters must have a capacity of 500 seats or more to be classified as such, whereas West End capacities range from 250 to just over 2,500), it’s not always straightforward to know where you’re sitting.

Step forwards the heroes of the hour, the fantastic team of ‘attendants’ (or, as we call them, ‘ushers’) present at every venue to guide you on your way.

Broadway says: Auditorium
We say: House

It’s a phrase that brings a sharp bolt of heady anticipation to the heart of every London Theatregoer: “The house is now open for the performance of… ”

Stepping into the ‘house’, or ‘auditorium’ as Broadway aficionados might call it, gives you the very first aesthetic taste of the jaw-dropping spectacle sure to come.

Broadway says: Broadway
We say: West End (and beyond)

There are a grand total of 48 venues in London classified as ‘West End’ theatres, but only 40 of New York’s are known as ‘Broadway theaters’.

Why? Well, whereas all ‘Broadway theaters’ are geographically located along or adjacent to Broadway, Manhattan, ‘West End’ theatres also include venues in the surrounding areas, for example Victoria, Waterloo and Chelsea.

Broadway says: Concessions
We say: Merchandise or Ticket price reduction

A double-meaning here: whereas Broadway theaters will have ‘concessions’ stands in their foyers, at which you can purchase your show merchandise (thence to be treasured forevermore, like a Phantom Of The Opera teddy bear), ‘concessions’ here tend to mean discounted tickets for eligible patrons.

Having said that, if you do happen to know of anywhere in London you can buy a Phantom Of The Opera teddy bear…

Broadway says: Intermission
We say: Interval

The break in the middle of every show may be our ‘interval’, but to our American friends it’s the ‘intermission.’

Use it to buy a quick batch of refreshments, chat to your neighbours (or ‘neighbors’), or maybe even nip to the lo- I mean, err, ‘bathroom’!

Broadway says: Load in/out
We say: Get in/out

All the props, sets, costumes, lights, instruments and technical contraptions don’t just appear in the venues by magic (unless you’ve a magical Genie or a school’s worth of witches and wizards to call upon, of course).

The ‘Get in/out’, or ‘Load in/out’ on Broadway, signifies the act of a show moving into (or out of) a theatre before (or after) the curtain rises (or falls).

Broadway says: Orchestra; Mezzanine; Balcony
We say: Stalls; Grand/Dress Circle; Upper Circle and Balcony

The standard structure of most West End theatres and most Broadway houses also tends to differ significantly, with most American venues not having a fourth floor.

Broadway says: Playbill
We say: Programme

With pages packed full of juicy backstage interviews, features and designs, the ‘playbill’, or ‘programme’ in the West End, is an essential accompaniment to any cherished theatrical experience.

But whereas in the West End you’ll have to pay a small fee to acquire one, Broadway ‘playbills’ are traditionally distributed to audiences for free.

Broadway says: Rush ticket
We say: Day ticket

When there are so many spectacular shows to see, and so many avid theatregoers striving to see them, it’s not always easy to get hold of your tickets ahead of time. And then there’s the temptation of impulse buying…

Not to worry, however, as ‘rush tickets’ – ‘day tickets’ to us – are often available to purchase, although you may need to either be out of bed early to queue (theatregoers are known to be extremely keen!) – or strike lucky in ticket lottery form – to guarantee your seat!

First published 4 July 2016; Updated 4 July 2018


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