SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Theatre Facts 2017 Introduces New Findings on the Health of U.S. Nonprofit Theatre Organizations

  • Posted Jan 23, 2019

After assessing the broad universe of theatres across America, a new study found that theatre organizations shared the works of an estimated 97,000 individual artists with 44 million audience members in 2017 alone. The study also showed that artists make up the vast majority of the theatre industry’s workforce – 66% artists compared to 22% in production/technical roles and 12% serving as administrative professionals.

These are just two of the findings of Theatre Facts 2017, the newest report of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for U.S. nonprofit professional theatre.

Produced annually by TCG, Theatre Facts is the only in-depth research report that examines attendance, performance, and overall fiscal health of the national not-for-profit theatre sector. Written by Zannie Giraud Voss, Glenn B. Voss, and Lesley Warren from SMU DataArts and Ilana B. Rose and Laurie Baskin from Theatre Communications Group, Theatre Facts 2017 reflects findings from the 2017 TCG Fiscal Survey, which includes data from the fiscal year that theatres completed between October 31, 2016 and September 30, 2017.



Executive Summary – an outline of highlights found in Trend Theatres 2013 – 2017 data as well as snapshots of key findings for Profiled Theatres organized by budget size.

The Universe – a broad overview of the estimated 1,759 U.S. professional not-for-profit theatres, including both TCG members and non-members and data from the TCG Fiscal Survey, IRS Form 990 and SMU DataArts Cultural Data Profile.

Trend Theatres – a longitudinal analysis of the 129 theatres that completed the TCG Fiscal Survey each year from 2013 through 2017, with a side-note offering a 10-year view based on a subset of 94 theatres that participated each year since 2008.

Profiled Theatres – a detailed examination of all 173 theatres that participated in the TCG Fiscal Survey 2017, with data broken out into six budget categories based on annual expenses.


While Theatre Facts 2017 presents considerable good news for the industry, we are also reminded of some “persistent concerns” that raise questions on the sustainability of these positive findings.


The analysis of Trend Theatres showed that escalating expenses were the norm from 2013 to 2017; however, earned and contributed income growth actually exceeded those expenses, resulting in 84% of these theatres experiencing a budget growth that outpaced inflation. Even with this positive fiscal growth, we still see that nearly half of these theatres ended the year in negative Change in Unrestricted Net Assets (CUNA) throughout all 5 years. Only 17 of the 129 Trend Theatres consecutively broke even or ran a surplus from 2013 to 2017, leaving negative CUNA a serious cause for concern and a threat to the future success of many theatres. A 10-year perspective, found on pages 20-22, reveals just how vulnerable theatre’s bottom lines become in years of economic decline.

More than half of all expenses were allotted towards payroll, and with this growth, theatres were able to offer more employment at higher wages. While part of this may be due to recent changes in legislation on minimum-wage laws, according to TCG’s American Theatre publication, “Even without minimum-wage laws, plenty of theatre leaders are working hard to provide compensation commensurate with the work that artists perform.” Theatre industry leaders across the nation have acknowledged a commitment to artists by providing fair compensation for their work.

Even though reports show an increase in the number of individuals employed as well as year-on-year growth in artistic, administrative, and production/tech payroll, this does not equal an increase in overall productivity. According to this report, theatres have slightly reduced the number of resident performances offered over time, but attendance for these performances has decreased to an even greater degree, despite an annual increase of income from single-ticket sales that grew at a rate above inflation.

Subscription income, on the other hand, fell short of inflation, and we see fewer average subscription tickets sold every year. Renewal rates for subscriptions held steady over time, which means that the bulk of this problem lies in weak acquisition rates.

Despite negative trends in subscription ticket revenue, this report shows investment instrument income has increased 16.2% since 2013, with endowment earnings leading the way. Overall increase in “other” earned income exceeded inflation by 24.8% and supported 1.7% more expenses in 2017 than in 2013.

Professional not-for-profit theatres across the nation make significant contributions to their communities, and in 2017, offered employment to 147,000 artists, administrators, and technical professionals who worked together to produce 18,000 productions. This report offers insight on not-for-profit theatre trends in financials, attendance, performance details, and operations while providing a breakdown of reports from participating organizations throughout the nation.


Read the Full Report