AMERICAN THEATER | The Theater Facts 2020 report shows the first effects of COVID


‘School girl; Or The African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh at True Colors Theater Company by Kenny Leon during the 2019-20 production season. Costumes by Jarrod Barnes. (Photo by Tyrrell Harrell)

NEW YORK CITY: The Theater Communications Group (TCG) has published DataArts in collaboration with SMU Theater facts 2020. Theater factsBased on TCG’s Tax Collection and SMU DataArts’ Cultural Data Profile (CDP), is the only in-depth report that examines the attendance, performance, and general tax position of professional nonprofit theater in the United States. This year’s survey, which covers the period October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, shows that despite a shortened season, nonprofit theaters contributed nearly $ 2.1 billion to the US economy and attracted 23 million visitors.

Theater facts 2020 provides a critical perspective on the fiscal state of our theater ecology in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, “TCG Executive Director Teresa Eyring said in a statement. “Theaters have been able to offset some of their lost ticket revenue with a significant increase in individual donations and government support – both signs that theater continues to be a valued part of their communities. By reducing spending, cinemas were able to maintain positive results, measured as the change in unrestricted net worth (CUNA), for the fifth year in a row. However, this cost reduction came at the expense of staff reductions. Although last year’s losses were substantial, the report also speaks of the resilience and innovation of our theater ecology. We’re not out of the pandemic yet, however Theater facts 2020 underlines the many strengths that the theaters will fall back on when they reopen. “

The full Theater facts 2020 Report is available here. It is broken down into a summary followed by data presented in the following three ways:

  • The Universe: A Broad View of the world’s estimated 1,422 professional nonprofit theaters
  • Trend theaters: a longitudinal analysis of the 152 theaters that participated in either the TCG Fiscal Survey or the CDP each year from 2016 to 2020.
  • Profiled Theaters: a detailed study of all 206 theaters that completed a CDP in 2020, with data broken down into six budget categories based on annual spending.

“These results shed light on how the finances and operations of the theater area impacted at the start of the pandemic,” said Zannie Giraud Voss, director of SMU DataArts, in a statement. “Future iterations of this report will uncover expanded pandemic-related impacts and provide data to support the rebuilding and redesign of the theater space through an equitable lens to ensure that everyone in the theater is welcomed and supported for years to come.”

Unless otherwise stated, the financial changes listed below reflect average, inflation-adjusted figures for the trend theaters for the 5-year period from 2016 to 2020. The key takeaways include:

  • The average 5-year wage increased annually and then decreased in 2020. The result was a five-year decline that outpaced inflation by 13 percent. The average single ticket income was 33 percent lower in 2020 than in 2016 and 40 percent less than in 2019. Subscription revenue fell 29 percent over the trending period, with a five-year high in 2019. Total ticket revenue declined 31 percent, a 36 percent decline from 2019 to 2020.
  • All levels of government support reached their five-year highs in 2020, with some of that growth possibly being explained by COVID-19 aid funding. Federal funding in particular ended the trend period 181 percent above the 2016 level after a five-year low in 2019.
  • The average contribution income of other people (non-trustees) increased by 46 percent over the five-year trend period, including a 37 percent increase from 2019.
  • The theatre’s average budget has shrunk by 12 percent from 2019 to 2020. The biggest shift was a 2020 cut in general labor costs and management staffing expenses that were almost half the 2019 levels.
  • Working capital improved to a five-year high in 2020. More than half of the trend theaters in 2016 had negative working capital, which fell to 39 percent of theaters in 2020.

Theater communication group Theater 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, Deputy 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 and collective action, TCG.

For more information on the changes in the industry between 2016 and 2020, as well as income, attendance and spending differences between theaters of different sizes, see the Trend Theater and Profile Theater sections of the full Theater facts 2020 Report, available here.

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