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'Theatre Facts' Mixed Bill

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Theatre Communications Group (TCG) has released "Theatre Facts 2003," its annual statistical look at the fiscal health—and attendance and performances—of not-for-profit stages across the nation. The report, derived from data that covers the period from Sept. 30, 2002 to Aug. 31, 2003, was released by TCG June 8.

The report is a curious mix of good news, not-so-good news, and plenty of well-considered spin. The announcement that the nonprofit theatre industry contributed a total of $1.4 billion to the U.S. economy—in the form of salaries, benefits, and payments for goods and services—is a positive, yet this was also the figure cited in "Theatre Facts 2002." Still, that figure is considerably more impressive than the $923 million figure cited in "Theatre Facts 2001."

Indeed, relative consistency seems to be the order of the day: In "Theatre Facts 2003," 58 percent of theatres reported running at an annual deficit; last year's figure was a slightly less worrisome 54 percent. Nonprofit theatres generate revenue from many sources, and individual contributions are one of the most important, so it is also worrisome that this year's survey reveals a remarkable 22 percent drop in this area, without a concurrent rise, say, in box office income or income from foundations and corporate entities. "Theatre Facts" also examines fiscal trends over a five-year period, so in this light, it goes on to note, there have been some "remarkable gains" in individual giving.

Back Stage contacted TCG Executive Director Ben Cameron, requesting to assess statistics from "Theatre Facts 1993"; this is the report's 29th annual edition. In an e-mail exchange, Cameron indicated, "[Financial Accounting Standards Board changes] mean that comparisons cannot be made that far back; numbers are now accounted for in different ways in the audits, shifting the results significantly…. As soon as the numbers can be meaningfully compared, we'll be doing the 10-year trends—but that's at least a couple of years out."

Even so, "Theatre Facts 2003" offers some valuable insights into the state of the nation's theatrical nonprofits. The "Universe" section—a study of 1,274 theatres that filed IRS Form 990, including 287 TCG member groups that agreed to provide deeper fiscal, attendance, and performing data—offers the broadest overview of all. In total, these groups offered 170,000 performances that attracted more than 34 million patrons. Last year, when roughly 1,100 theatres contributed data, there were approximately 150,000 performances in all, attracting some 32 million ticket holders.

The 1,274 theatres, in addition, employed roughly 104,000 individuals in 2003, an approximately 5,000-job drop from the number of total paid personnel reported in 2002—meaning that, as there were 174 more theatres included in this year's report, the average number of jobs-per-theatre has dropped significantly. These jobs broke down as follows: 61 percent artistic positions, 26 percent technical personnel, and 13 percent administrative personnel, versus 63 percent artistic positions, 25 percent tech staff, and 12 percent administrative last year.

The second section, titled "Universe Trend Theatres," takes a more probing look at 125 of the 1,274 theatres; all had provided TCG with basic fiscal, attendance, and performance data over the last five years.

The findings for this group show little change in sources of revenue: 57 percent of income for these theatres comes from "earned sources" (such as box office revenue) and 43 percent comes from contributions. This compares with 60 percent earned income and 40 percent contributed income in 1999. This section also yielded interesting statistics regarding the effects of inflation (income growth outpaced it by 15 percent over five years) as well as attendance (up 4.2 percent, with total performances up 6.4 percent overall since 1999).

The third and fourth sections, titled "Profiled Theatres" and "Trend Theatres," examined smaller sets of data and yielded statistics regarding the pace of single-ticket income, the state of capital losses and gains, payroll as a percentage of budget, and the number of educational and outreach programs and how many people they reach.

Among the most interesting spots was found in the "Profiled Theatres" section, which examined 214 theatres that have completed the most extensive of TCG's surveys. Of the theatre companies in this group, 38 reported annual budgets under $500,000 and 37 had budgets between $500,000 and $1 million. This indicates that midsize nonprofits, while clearly still struggling through times that are as uncertain as ever, nevertheless remain a dominant group and, therefore, may be poised for growth in a more stable economic environment. Among the theatre companies in the top economic tier, the air was thin: Just 19 theatres reported annual budgets of more than $10 million.

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