SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Reduced Expenses and Growth in Government Support Kept Theatres Afloat in 2021

  • Posted Feb 07, 2023

The 42nd edition of Theatre Facts from Theatre Communications Group (TCG) is an in-depth report examining the attendance, performance, and overall fiscal health of the nonprofit theatre sector to emphasize its significant artistic, educational and economic contributions as we strategize rebuilding for the future.

Not-for-profit theatres contributed $1.37 billion to the U.S. economy and attracted 2.9 million audience members in 2021, according to Theatre Facts 2021released by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), in partnership with SMU DataArts. Based on TCG's Fiscal Survey and SMU DataArts’ Cultural Data Profile (CDP), Theatre Facts is the only in-depth report that examines the attendance, performance, and overall fiscal state of the U.S. professional not-for-profit theatre field.

Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts. Image credit: Kim Leeson Photography Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts. Image credit: Kim Leeson Photography

Theatre Facts 2021 aims to continue to shed light on the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector. This report focuses on organizational fiscal years ending between October 2020 and September 2021, thus capturing a full fiscal year impacted by the pandemic. 

Paired with the impacts of COVID-19, the advancement of racial equity in our society and sector has opened more conversations regarding funding allocation and programmatic decision-making that aim to cultivate, share, and preserve diverse programming that better reflects the members of the theatre community as a whole. 

Three sections of this report exist to provide different levels of perspective:

  • The Universe: a broad overview of the estimated 1,852 U.S. professional not-for-profit theatres. 
  • Trend Theatres: a longitudinal analysis of the 136 theatres that participated in either the TCG Fiscal Survey or CDP each year from 2017 to 2021, with COVID-19 impacts explored from 2019 into 2021.
  • Profiled Theatres: explores the overall state of 170 theatres that completed a CDP in 2021 with data broken out into six budget categories based on annual expenses.

Key Findings

  • Sharp reductions in expenses coupled with large growth in government contributions and investments kept theatres afloat. However, these positive financial shifts merely cover the difficult reality of reduced programmatic experiences and audience sizes in 2021. As audiences return to live performances, theatres will be challenged to revive earned revenue income sources to counter reduced government relief and the effects of high inflation in 2022.

  • Over the 5-year period between 2017 and 2021, total expenses fell by 46%, a greater rate than total revenue. Contributed revenue covered nearly all expenses in 2021 while earned revenue dropped by 61% during the 5-year period. One-year changes showed a surge in contributed revenue likely due to exceptional government relief funds paired with contraction of expenses and earned revenue.

  • Beyond the finances, the production and sharing of theatrical content fell dramatically through 2021 with performances dropping over 70% over the trend period and attendance falling by over 80%, with more pronounced drops for audiences age 18 and under. Subscriber counts fell by 25% over the trend period, adding more pressure to the changing dynamics of the subscriber models in the sector.


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Theatre Communication Group’s Theatre Facts 2021 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, associate director for research, SMU DataArts; Rebecca Roscoe, senior research associate, SMU DataArts; Teresa Eyring, executive director and CEO, TCG; Rachel Hip-Flores, communications associate, TCG; and Corinna Schulenburg, director of communications, TCG.


Theatre Communications Group (TCG) exists to strengthen, nurture, and promote professional theatre in the U.S. and globally. Since its founding in 1961, TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to over 700 Member Theatres and affiliate organizations and nearly 10,000 Individual Members. Through its Core Values of Activism, Artistry, Diversity, and Global Citizenship, TCG advances a better world for theatre and a better world because of theatre. TCG offers its members networking and knowledge-building opportunities through research, communications, and events, including the annual TCG National Conference, one of the largest nationwide gatherings of theatre people; awards grants and scholarships, approximately $2 million per year, to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level; and through the Global Theater Initiative, TCG's partnership with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute. TCG is North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with 17 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama on the TCG booklist. It also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. In all of its endeavors, TCG seeks to increase the organizational efficiency of its Member Theatres, cultivate and celebrate the artistic talent and achievements of the field, and promote a larger public understanding of, and appreciation for, the theatre.

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