Off-Off-Broadway theaters are defined as theaters that have fewer than 100 seats. The shows range from professional and successful productions by established artists like Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theater in the East Village, or The Flea Theater in TriBeCa, to extremely small amateur performances, and take place all over New York City.
Off-Off-Broadway began in 1958 as a reaction to Off-Broadway, and a "complete rejection of commercial theatre". Among the first venues for what would soon be called "Off-Off-Broadway" (a term supposedly coined by critic Jerry Tallmer of the Village Voice) were coffeehouses in Greenwich Village, particularly the Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street, operated by the eccentric Joe Cino, who early on took a liking to actors and playwrights and agreed to let them stage plays there without bothering to read the plays first, or to even find out much about the content. Also integral to the rise of Off-Off-Broadway were Ellen Stewart at La MaMa, and Al Carmines at the Judson Poets' Theater, located at Judson Memorial Church.
The term "Indie Theater" was coined by Kirk Wood Bromley in his acceptance speech at the 2005 New York Innovative Theatre Awards. There is currently a movement to re-brand Off-Off-Broadway as "Indie Theatre". The New York Innovative Theatre Awards (the IT Awards) are given annually to honor artistic excellence in the Off-Off-Broadway theatre. For many years, Off-Off-Broadway theatres were part of OOBA, the Off-Off-Broadway Alliance, which then became ARTNY, the Alliance of Resident Theatres in New York.
An Off-Off-Broadway production that features members of Actors Equity is called an Equity Showcase production. The Union maintains very strict rules about working in such productions, including restrictions on price, the length of the run and rehearsal times. Professional actors' participation in showcase productions is not infrequent, and in fact comprises the bulk of stage work for the majority of New York actors.