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Joe Ngo, Brooke Ishibashi, Abraham Kim, Jane Lui, and Moses Villarama in Lauren Yee’s 'Cambodian Rock Band,' directed by Chay Yew in 2019 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Photo by Jenny Graham)

TCG Releases Theatre Facts 2019, a Pre-Pandemic Snapshot of the Field

The study shows that U.S. nonprofit theatres were in relatively good financial shape in the year between Oct. 2018 and Sept. 2019.

NEW YORK CITY: Theatre Communications Group has released Theatre Facts 2019, its 40th annual industry report on the U.S. professional not-for-profit theatre field’s finances, attendance, performance details, and operations. The in-depth report investigates trends in these areas using data from the 2019 TCG Fiscal Survey, which covers the fiscal year that TCG Member Theatres completed between Oct. 31, 2018 and Sept. 30, 2019. (This year has shown a 27 percent decrease in participation of the TCG Fiscal Survey, due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic overlapping with the submission window.)

“For over 45 years, TCG has provided in-depth longitudinal research on the state of the field, from attendance numbers to expenses to working capital,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, in a statement. “Theatre Facts 2019 provides a critical perspective on the fiscal state of our theatre ecology before COVID-19, and the largest protest for racial justice in our country’s history, transformed our field. As a vital historical record, Theatre Facts 2019 documents the financial successes and challenges theatres faced, helping us collectively imagine new ways of supporting theatres and theatremakers going forward.”

The report is presented in three sections that offer varying perspectives of the field’s financial, performance, and attendance. The Universe section provides a broad overview of the U.S. not-for-profit theatre field in the 2019 season with data from 1,953 theatres, a participation group comprising TCG Member Theatre—both those that participated in Fiscal Survey 2019 and those that did not—and additional professional not-for-profit theatres throughout the U.S. that filed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990 or provided data through SMU DataArts’ Cultural Data Profile. The second section, Trend Theatres, offers an analysis of the 84 TCG Member Theatres that have participated yearly in the TCG Fiscal Survey from 2015 to 2019. The Profiled Theatres section explores the overall state of the 129 theatres that completed the 2019 TCG Fiscal Survey, based on budget groups and annual expenses.

“At a moment of such considerable uncertainty about the future, it is important to acknowledge the enduring importance and resiliency of the theatre field, its practitioners, and supporters,” the Theatre Facts 2019 report states. “We should not forget the essential role that theatres play in fueling creative expression, community development, emotional health, cultural literacy, and social cohesion and integration. Theatre Facts 2019, as well as previous years’ reports, offer a marker and reminder of the fiscal development of the not-for-profit professional theatre sector prior to the pandemic. Future iterations of Theatre Facts will reveal pandemic-related impacts as well as provide data to inform the rebuilding and reimagining of our theatre field for years to come.”

The report shows that the 84 Trend Theatres’ finances were generally stable between 2015 and 2019, with earned income growing at a faster rate than expenses. The average single ticket income was 13.6 percent higher in 2019 than in 2015, and subscription income increased by 5.2 percent over the period, with a five-year high in 2019. One cause for concern was that corporate giving decreased by 12.4 percent over time and supported 0.7 percent less of expenses over time for the 84 Trend Theatres. Liquidity was also problematic, as 43 percent of Trend Theatres reported that they lacked sufficient unrestricted resources to meet day-to-day needs in each of the past 5 years.

The Change in Unrestricted Net Assets (CUNA), which represents theatres’ annual bottom line, was at a five-year low, representing only 4.6 percent of total expenses in 2019. CUNA encompasses operating income and expenses, unrestricted equipment and facilities, capital gains and losses, as well as gifts.  While the average CUNA was positive in each of the last five years, the report notes that the percentage of Trend Theatre ending each fiscal year in the black diminished over time. A bright spot in the report indicates that the U.S. professional not-for-profit theatre field attracted an estimate of 38 million audience members to 180,000 performances of 21,000 productions in 2019, and more than one million Americans subscribed to a theatre season that year. The full report can be read here.

This latest report  was written by Zannie Giraud Voss, professor and director of DataArts at Southern Methodist University (SMU); Glenn B. Voss, professor emeritus and DataArts research director, SMU; Daniel Fonner, associate director for research, SMU DataArts; Adrian Budhu, deputy director and COO, TCG; Teresa Eyring, executive director and CEO, TCG; and Laurie Baskin, director of Research, Policy & Collective Action, TCG.

“This report is a celebration of the enduring importance and resiliency of the American theatre field and those who create and support it,” said Zannie Voss in a statement. “Ultimately, the communal nature of arts participation will be a strength to communities hungry to come together again and affirm existential meaning after prolonged isolation, trauma, and polarization.”

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