Around the time this issue of American Theatre hits the streets, theatre professionals from across the country will be gathering in Philadelphia for TCG’s 13th biennial National Conference.
We will have a lot to celebrate.
We gather on the heels of Theatre Facts 2000, an analysis of the national theatre field’s fiscal health. For those of you with a deep affection for pie charts, a love of numbers and secret ambitions to qualify as a CPA, I urge you to check it out on our website at www.tcg.org. For those of you not so inclined, let me promise that we will release a user-friendly version in our magazine in September—a no-graphs report that captures the big picture and illustrates important trends with compelling case studies.
This report marks an historic point in the accomplishments of our field. Attendance numbers are at an all-time high, the growth of assets remarkable over the last four years, and the percentage of individual theatres finishing the year with a surplus the highest ever. More people are going to theatre, creating theatre—in essence, participating in theatre—than at any other time in our nation’s cultural history.
We also gather to celebrate TCG’s own 40th anniversary. American Theatre is one program of a much larger organization—an organization started in 1961 when McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation convened the leaders of the nation’s not-for-profit professional theatres, curious to discover whether they might be well served by an ongoing communications network. Delegates from 16 theatres answered the call.Today, Theatre Communications Group offers its membership—more than 400 theatres in 47 states—an array of some 35 different programs in the areas of publications, management services, artistic programs, international programs, advocacy and education. We do this to strengthen, nourish and promote the American not-for-profit professional theatre—a simple but compelling mission. Our membership today is a vibrant, passionate, thrilling collection of organizations. While we are proud to claim almost all LORT theatres as members, they number only 72—constituting less than 20 percent of our membership. And while 11 percent of our members have budgets above $5 million, 55 percent have budgets of less than $1 million—including the 35 percent of members with budgets of less than $500,000, the largest sector of all. The membership includes traditional classical theatres, gay and lesbian theatres, women’s theatres, theatres of color, theatres serving disabled populations, theatres for young audiences, theatres in virtually every urban center and in surprisingly remote areas as well—places like Hailey, Idaho, Whitesburg, Ky., and Blue Lake, Calif.—a vibrant cross section of the field that mirrors the vibrancy of America itself.
Still, we are acutely conscious that we serve only a section of a much larger community. We believe that more than 1,200 professional not-for-profit theatres are active in America today. Theatres that are just beginning or those that are making the transition to full-time operations may be too pressed to take full advantage of TCG membership. Our programs presume both a dedication to making the theatre an ongoing concern over time and some degree of success in solving basic issues of space, marketing and ticketing. As a national organization, we cannot possibly monitor local real estate issues, operate local ticket booths or coordinate local marketing campaigns. There are ongoing needs for technical assistance in a hands-on way that we simply cannot manage. Fortunately there are more than 40 local theatre service organizations working to meet these needs—the APASO network, comprised of groups like Theatre Bay Area, ART/NY and the League of Chicago Theatres—who are indispensable to the field and who are often gracious partners to TCG in its work.
But once a theatre believes it has its feet under it and is ready to benefit from a national network of peers, we stand ready to work with them.
Our celebration focuses particularly on the leaders who have helped guide this exploding arts movement. As part of our anniversary, we are launching a video archive project—an attempt to capture the stories of the field over time. Our first installment comes in the form of two-hour interviews with the 10 phenomenal living individuals who have served as TCG board presidents. The taping sessions were a thrilling experience (see excerpts on pages 21-41).
And as we gather in Philadelphia, we celebrate leadership in the larger world—leadership that has made our success possible: the foundations and corporations who have been indispensable allies in our growth.
We also celebrate those who are not officially part of the TCG family: the community theatres, the commercial theatre, the avocational and university theatres, the sensational RAT theatres (that feisty confederation of small alternative theatres, only some of whom claim TCG affiliation). All of their work is vital to the field, informing, enhancing and expanding our collective theatrical vocabulary and developing our larger audience.
The metaphors of 40—images of life beginning at 40 and mid-life crises—have been jokingly thrown around the TCG offices at various points this year. But life in America’s resident theatre movement began long ago, and if you think the past 40 years have been something, check with us again in 2041. You ain’t seen nothing yet.