Theatre Facts 92

Article excerpt

The worst economic recession in two decades took a heavy toll on the nation's theatres in 1992. Nonprofit theatres--subject to the same economic determinants as other enterprises, but historically undercapitalized and financially vulnerable--have reached a new level of fiscal crisis, according to Theatre Communications Group's latest annual survey of nonprofit professional theatres nationwide.

Through increasingly sophisticated marketing efforts combined with some financially driven programming choices, the theatres managed to maintain overall attendance levels, but experienced a first-ever loss of subscribers. Touring activity decreased sharply, lessening the theatre field's ability to reach underserved members of the population and develop new audiences away from the traditional theatre centers, while major cutbacks in workshops, readings and other ancillary productions severely curtailed the theatres' ability to cultivate new work through research and development activities.

The erosion of public sector funding in the form of crippling cuts in state and federal government grants, along with a first-time drop in corporate giving, seriously affected the theatres' contributed income outlook. While double-digit growth in contributions from both individuals and foundations brightened the otherwise grim picture, total grants and contributions failed to even keep pace with inflation, and expenses grew considerably faster than income.

In addition to programming cutbacks, many theatres were forced to respond to the recession by freezing or cutting salaries, furloughing or shrinking full-time staffs, or reducing artistic resources, raising concern over the field's artistic and institutional growth. Despite these often drastic cautionary measures, nearly half the surveyed theatres ended the year with operating deficits. TCG member theatres that closed or suspended operations in fiscal 1992 included the Los Angeles Theatre Center, San Francisco's Eureka Theatre, the Theatre Project Company in St. Louis and Snowmass/Aspen Repertory Theatre in Colorado, bringing the five-year total of theatres that have been forced to cease operations to 23 companies. Many more theatres are currently operating on the financial edge, carrying substantial and debilitating deficits year after year.

Survey Universe

1992 Totals for 182 Theatres

The 1992 TCG Fiscal Survey incorporates information from 182 nonprofit professional theatres across the U.S. The theatres--located in 112 towns and cities in 36 states and the District of Columbia--are representative of the wide artistic, cultural and geographic scope of the field. The theatres in the 1992 survey universe:

* Ranged in size from $45,000 in annual operating expenses to more than $20 million;

* Constituted a $366-million industry;

* Played to a total attendance of more than 16 million during the 1991-92 season;

* Presented 46,184 performances of more than 2,300 productions;

* Employed a total of 27,630 actors, directors, designers, playwrights, administrators and technicians;

* Fared poorly financially, as nearly half the survey universe--85 theatres--ended the year with operating fund deficits. Of those deficits, 28 were in excess of $100,000 and 2 exceeded $1 million. In comparison, only 11 theatres reported operating fund surpluses of $100,000 or more.

Sample Group

Five-year Trends for 68 Theatres

The largest sample group studied since the survey began provides detailed information and a five-year trend analysis of 68 theatres for this report, beginning with 1988. The sample theatres together account for more than two-thirds of the total financial activity of the 182-theatre survey universe and range in budget size from $582,000 to more than $10.6 million. These theatres, selected because of the consistency of survey participation over the past five years, bear a very similar profile to the survey universe, and are representative of the field as a whole. …