Attendance down, Contributions up According to TCG Attendance down, Contributions up According to TCG
With fewer people buying tickets, theaters are cutting play development and investing in education. Attendance down, Contributions up According to TCG

Not-for-profit theaters contributed nearly $2.2 billion to the U.S. economy and attracted 29.5 million attendees, according to Theatre Facts 2015, released by Theatre Communications Group (TCG).

The report, which used broad data from 1750 U.S. non-profit theaters, as well as detailed numbers from 125 institutions of various sizes, indicates that attendance is down about 4% over a 5-year period, and 9% over a 10-year period. Subscriptions have held steady, and overall income from ticket sales has outpaced inflation, suggesting higher ticket prices have more than made up for the decrease in attendance.

TCG paints a rosy picture of contributions, with member theaters reporting a substantial increase (47%) in trustee giving and a 25% increase in contributed income from other individuals. However, corporate and government giving is way down. On the whole, contributed income grew 9%, but that number doesn’t stack up well to overall charitable contributions in the U.S., which are up 25% over the same period according to charitynavigator.org.

Expenses are on the rise, outpacing inflation, 57% of theaters’ incomes are meeting or exceeding expenditures, which is about in line with the 2011 numbers.

More Staff, Same Money

Total payroll among TCG member theaters grew by nearly 14% from 2011 to 2015, matched by a 13% increase in the average number of paid personnel, suggesting that while hiring is on the rise, salaries are not. Theaters spend more money by far on payroll than any other expense category, with nearly 55% of all expenses going to artistic, administrative, and production/technical personnel.

Less Investment in New Play Development and Late/Off Night Programming

Perhaps the most disappointing number in the report is a 16% cut in staged readings and workshop offerings since 2011. “Other performances” — including pre-show educational events, lectures, backstage tours, cabaret performances, and late night shows — suffered a 26% cut.

Education/Outreach Is a Bright Spot

“Theaters are pushing back on a decline in attendance through education programs and productions for young audiences, which saw significant increases in reach and income generated,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG. Earned income from education/outreach programs rose 28% over a 5-year period, and people served by outreach and education activity increased by 22%. Attendance at children’s series performances grew 12%, and there was a 24% gain in income from those productions.

Theatre Facts 2015 shows theatres benefitting from increases in earned and contributed income, and highlights an increased investment by our field in the workforce that serves as our core,” Eryring says. “While our field continues to face challenges, this report indicates that many theatres have found a greater sense of stability and are investing in the future.”

Based on the annual TCG Fiscal Survey, Theatre Facts is an in-depth report that examines the attendance, performance, and overall fiscal state of the U.S. professional not-for-profit theater field. Theatre Facts 2015 reflects data from the fiscal year that theaters completed between October 31, 2014 and September 30, 2015, and is available at tcg.org.

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.

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