41st annual report documents initial pandemic state of the field

New York, NY – Not-for-profit theatres contributed nearly $2.1 billion to the U.S. economy and attracted 23 million attendees, according to Theatre Facts 2020released by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), in partnership with SMU DataArts. Based on TCG’s Fiscal Survey and SMU DataArts’ Cultural Data Profile (CDP), Theatre Facts is the only in-depth report that examines the attendance, performance, and overall fiscal state of the U.S. professional not-for-profit theatre field. 

Theatre Facts 2020 provides a critical perspective on the fiscal state of our theatre ecology during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director, TCG. “Theatres were able to offset some of their lost ticket income through significant increases in individual giving and government support–both signs that theatres remain deeply valued parts of their communities. By also reducing expenses, theatres were able to keep their bottom line, measured as Change in Unrestricted Net Assets (CUNA), positive for the fifth year in a row. However, that reduction in expenses came at the painful cost of a workforce reduction. While these losses of the past year have been significant, the report also speaks to the resilience and innovative nature of our theatre ecology. We’re not out of the pandemic yet, but Theatre Facts 2020 underlines the many strengths that theatres will draw upon as they continue to reopen.”

Theatre Facts 2020 reflects data from the fiscal year that theatres completed between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. “These findings shed light on how the theatre field’s finances and operations were impacted at the very start of the pandemic,” said Zannie Giraud Voss, director, SMU DataArts. “Future iterations of this report will reveal extended pandemic-related impacts as well as provide data to inform the rebuilding and reimagining of the theatre field through an equitable lens to ensure all are welcomed and supported in the theatre for years to come.” Following an Executive Summary, the report presents data in three ways: 

  • The Universe: a broad overview of the estimated 1,422 U.S. professional not-for-profit theatres.
  • Trend Theatres: a longitudinal analysis of the 152 theatres that participated in either the TCG Fiscal Survey or CDP each year from 2016 to 2020.
  • Profiled Theatres: a detailed examination of all 206 theatres that completed a CDP in 2020 with data broken out into six budget categories based on annual expenses. 

Theatre Facts 2020 is available at: https://circle.tcg.org/resources/research/theatre-facts.

Unless otherwise noted, all of the financial changes reported in this press release reflect average, inflation-adjusted figures for the Trend Theatres for the 5-year period from 2016 to 2020. Key findings include:

  • Average 5-year earned income rose annually then fell in 2020, resulting in a 5-year decrease exceeding inflation by 13%. Average single ticket income was 33% lower in 2020 than in 2016 (40% lower than 2019), and subscription income fell by 29% over the period, with a 5-year high in 2019. 
  • All levels of government support were at their 5-year peak in 2020, with perhaps some growth explained by COVID-19 relief funding. 
  • Average contributed income from other individuals (non-trustees) grew 46% over the 5-year period, including a 37% increase from 2019.
  • The average theatre’s budget size shrank by 12% from 2019 to 2020. The biggest shift was a 2020 cut in general and management personnel expenses, which was nearly half its 2019 level. 
  • Working capital improved to a 5-year high in 2020. Over half of theatres in 2016 had negative working capital, dropping to 39% of theatres in 2020. 

For further information on the changes experienced by the field between 2016 and 2020, and on differences in income, attendance, and expenses between theatres of various sizes, see the Trend Theatres and Profiled Theatres sections of the full report at Theatre Facts 2020 is available at: https://circle.tcg.org/resources/research/theatre-facts.

Theatre Communication Group’s Theatre Facts 2020 was written by Zannie Giraud Voss, professor and director of SMU DataArts at Southern Methodist University (SMU); Glenn B. Voss, professor emeritus and SMU DataArts research director; 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.

SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research, is a joint project of the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. SMU DataArts compiles and analyzes data on arts organizations and their communities nationwide and develops reports on important issues in arts management and patronage. Its findings are available free of charge to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers, and the general public. The vision of SMU DataArts is to build a national culture of data-driven decision-making for those who want to see the arts and culture sector thrive. Its mission is to empower arts and cultural leaders with high-quality data and evidence-based resources and insights that help them to overcome challenges and increase impact. To work toward these goals, SMU DataArts integrates data from its Cultural Data Profile, its partner TRG Arts, and other national and government sources such as Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau, and IRS 990s. Publications include white papers on emergence from the COVID-19 crisishigh-performing arts organizations of color,  protecting arts organizations through downturns, working capital and the resiliency of BIPOC organizations, the intersection of Funding, Marketing, and Audience DEI, and more. SMU DataArts also publishes reports on the health of the U.S. arts and cultural sector with the annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which highlights the 40 most arts-vibrant communities around the country. For more information, visit www.smu.edu/dataarts.

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, leads for a just and thriving theatre ecology. Since its founding in 1961, TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to over 700 Member Theatres and affiliate organizations and over 7,000 Individual Members. Through its programs and services, TCG reaches over one million students, audience members, and theatre professionals each year. TCG offers networking and knowledge-building opportunities through research, communications, and events, including the annual TCG National Conference, one of the largest nationwide gatherings of theatre people; awards grants and scholarships to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level; and through the Global Theater Initiative, TCG’s partnership with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute. TCG is North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with 18 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama on the TCG booklist. It also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. TCG believes its vision of “a better world for theatre, and a better world because of theatre” can be achieved through individual and collective action, adaptive and responsive leadership, and equitable representation in all areas of practice. TCG is led by executive director and CEO Teresa Eyring and deputy director and COO Adrian Budhu. tcg.org

Photo (above) by Tyrell Harrell: The pageant-ready acting company of School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play, by Jocelyn Bioh at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in the 2019-2020 production season. Costumes by Jarrod Barnes.