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'Theatre Facts' Paints Bright Picture

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Theatre Communications Group (TCG) has published "Theatre Facts 2004," its annual statistical look at the state of the nation's nonprofit professional theatres. It was developed through an analysis of financial, attendance, and production data covering the period from Sept. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31, 2004.

Unlike last year's report, which labored to locate optimism in an industry still roiled by recession and terrorism fears, "Theatre Facts 2004" finds the field rebounding, "showing that belt tightening after the hardships of the prior year and vigorous commitment to income generation left the average theatre in a better position than it was in 2003." Despite the hurdles that nonprofit regional theatre has faced since the century began, theatres "continue to make tremendous contributions to the nation's artistic heritage, to their communities, and to the economy."

According to the report, nonprofit theatres contributed more than $1.46 billion to the U.S. economy in 2004 in the form of salaries, benefits, and payments for goods and services, a figure roughly equal to those of both 2003 and 2002. Yet the industry's real impact may be far greater: "In conjunction with their evening or afternoon at the theatre, many audience members go out to eat, hire babysitters, etc. Theatres' employees live in their communities, pay rent or buy homes, and make regular purchases. The taxes associated with these services benefit all levels of government."

In another dramatic and equally positive development, a majority of theatres in the survey -- 54% -- reported that they ended the year in the black. At the same time, however, economic disparities continued: "On average, theatres with budgets between $100,000 and $500,000" -- the lowest-income category in the survey -- "ended the year with a deficit," the report states.

"Theatre Facts 2004" contains three sections: "Universe: The Big Picture" is an overview of 1,477 theatres that filed IRS returns in 2004, including 258 TCG member theatres that provided more-specific information. "Profiled Theatres: In-Depth Snapshot" considers 198 theatres that offered even more detailed data, ranked by the size of their budget. And "Trend Theatres: In-Depth Coverage 2000-2004" examines the 92 theatres that have faithfully provided the greatest level of detailed information every year since 2000.

Each section also takes special care to analyze a figure known as CUNA (change in unrestricted net assets), an accounting tool that considers operating income and expenses; unrestricted facility, equipment, board-designated, and endowment gifts; capital gains and losses; capital campaign expenses; and gifts released from temporary restrictions during the current year.

At its most fundamental level, the report makes it clear that while nonprofit regional theatre's overall outlook is improving, it would still be premature to pop the champagne cork. Whereas "Theatre Facts 2003" totaled up 170,000 performances that attracted more than 34 million patrons, for example, "Theatre Facts 2004" found not only a slight slackening in total performances (down to 169,000), but a much more dramatic drop in attendance (down to 32.1 million). By contrast, the industry's employment statistics are less alarming: 104,000 people held staff positions at the surveyed theatres in 2004, the same as in 2003, and their distribution (64% artistic, 24% technical, 12% administrative) comports with figures from recent years.

In the report's remaining sections, some of the more interesting discoveries are related to fiscal health. Of the 198 companies in the Profiled Theatres group, for example, 21 reported annual budgets topping $10 million, up from 19 recorded in "Theatre Facts 2003." The greatest change was found, however, at the other end of the economic spectrum: While 38 companies reported annual budgets of under half a million dollars in "Theatre Facts 2003," only 30 groups in the current report fall into that category, an indication that overall revenue may be picking up steam. This group of 198 theatres financed 63% of its expenses through earned income (such as ticket sales) as opposed to contributed income, which generally comes in the form of foundation grants and other types of philanthropy.

A full copy of "Theatre Facts 2004" can be downloaded from www.tcg.org.

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