It’s summer and there’s a heat wave in New York City as I settle in to write this column, with the air conditioner on full blast at the lowest setting of 60 degrees. Summer is a great time for me to catch up on theatre I missed during the busy spring season. I began my summer of theatre with The Prom, which had its world premiere at TCG member theatre the Alliance Theatre. Then I went way down to Hadestown, which received its world premiere at another TCG member theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, and took home eight Tonys this year, including Best Musical. The icing on top was going backstage to visit with the incredibly talented and charismatic André De Shields, a Tony winner and a past TCG Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellow.
My theatre-filled summer continued with Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, and for me, as an immigrant, that document means equality, freedom, and a better life. Then it was off to Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview—a Soho Rep and Berkeley Rep commission that then ran at Theatre for a New Audience, all TCG members—then Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop, co-produced by Playwrights Horizons and Page 73. With more than two decades of experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors, I find that theatre continues to give meaning to the incomprehensible joys and tragedies in life and the world. Thank you to all the theatremakers and administrators for bringing these stories to our stages. I can’t wait for what’s next!
Summer is also the time we at TCG bid adieu to fiscal year 2019—and what a year it’s been. To name some highlights, just a few months ago we welcomed 900 people from across the country and across borders to Miami for our National Conference. Fairview marked the 17th Pulitzer-winning play published by TCG Books. We welcomed six new board members: May Adrales, John Fontillas, Angela Gieras, Mara Isaacs, Anthony Rodriguez, and Hana S. Sharif.
Looking back at 2018-19, a pressing topic in the resident-theatre community has been fundraising challenges, both individual and institutional giving. Recently TCG and UBS co-presented a roundtable on Trends in Philanthropic Giving and Donor Advised Funds. As you might imagine, the hot topic was how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 may be affecting individual giving—a subject very much on our minds, as TCG advocates at the federal level for restoring and expanding the full value and scope of charitable-giving incentives by enacting a universal charitable deduction as well as further policies to strengthen the nonprofit community.
TCG’s most recent Theatre Facts report showed a 17.2 percent increase in average contributed income (after adjusting for inflation) between 2013 and 2017. During that period, average giving by individuals, including trustees, grew by 23 percent. Trustee giving grew in part because many of our member theatres were going through capital campaigns.
Now that most of our member theatres have completed their first full audit since the new tax law took effect, we’ve begun receiving early indications that individual giving—especially smaller, frequent gifts—has decreased. We don’t yet know the full impact of the tax law, but will continue to monitor and assess as we analyze data from our just-completed Fiscal Survey. Like many, we are hypothesizing that a sizeable number of people who gave smaller gifts in the past have reduced or eliminated their gifts because of the lack of tax incentives to itemize. We encourage theatres to reach out with any evidence that supports (or challenges) this theory.
Another conversation that came out of the roundtable, and it’s a point we’ve heard many times and are working with our membership to address, is a question of how the theatre community can strengthen its messaging around the public value of theatre. We know that the arts transform communities: According to the survey Americans Speak Out About the Arts in 2018, 86 percent of respondents believe the arts industry is good for the economy and supports jobs, and 72 percent believe that arts unify us regardless of age, race, and ethnicity. We as theatre workers should continue to align and strengthen our messaging with our marketing and fundraising efforts to raise the valuation of U.S. theatre.
In a recent TED talk, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis said, “Our job is to try to hold up a vision to America that shows not only who all of us are individually, but that welds us back into the commonality that we need to be, the sense of unity, the sense of whole, the sense of who we are as a country. That’s what the theatre is supposed to do, and that’s what we need to try to do as well as we can.”
As we head into fall, with theatre seasons kicking into high gear, we have many opportunities to heed this declaration. With fall comes our Season Preview in this magazine’s October issue, and we can’t wait to see what will be on stages across the U.S. from veterans to new artistic leaders. We’re excited for this year’s Fall Forum on Governance (Nov. 8-10), which will address the theatre business model and its impact on fiscal health, day-to-day operations, organizational culture, and artistic decision-making processes. Mark your calendars—plans are also underway for our TCG Gala: Our Stories on Feb. 3, 2020; and we’re cooking up some exciting surprises. The federal Arts Advocacy Day is expected to take place in late March, and we’ll wrap the year in Phoenix, Ariz., with our National Conference June 4-6.
We continue to learn so much from our member theatres, and we can’t wait to bring these lessons into our new strategic planning process this fall. TCG will continue to be a space for all of us to strengthen, nurture, and promote the theatre ecology. On behalf of everyone at TCG, we want to thank you for your continued support. We never lose sight of the fact that we could not do this work without you.