Cheap Seats, Staff Cuts on Tap for U.S. Nonprofit Theaters
Feb. 20, 2009, Bloomberg — U.S. nonprofit theaters are cutting staff and expanding discounts as they anticipate disappointing ticket sales and fundraising, according to a new survey by the Theatre Communications Group.
In a January survey of 210 member theaters, the group found 77 percent are “reprojecting” expenses for the coming year. Theaters with a budget of at least $10 million are cutting spending by an average of $750,000.
More than half of those who completed the “snapshot survey” online expect year-end deficits and “cash flow problems.”
The survey confirms that nonprofits are getting clobbered by a contracting economy and a Standard & Poor’s 500 stock Index that’s cratered 45 percent in nine months.
About 10 U.S. theater companies in the U.S. have shut down recently or announced they’re in dire straits. Among the largest was the American Musical Theatre of San Jose, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 23.
Most of the theaters predict that ticket sales and fundraising from individuals and corporations will fall short of initial projections. Nearly a third said they’ll substitute small-cast shows for larger ones. More than half plan new ticket discounting.
Theater salaries are headed lower, even though much of the non-unionized rank and file barely earn a stipend as is. (TCG won’t release salary statistics it collects.) According to the survey, 69 percent of theaters said they’re reducing or freezing salaries. And 48 percent will reduce administrative staff.
“Survival is about having strong organizations going into this,” said Christopher Shuff, director of management programs for New York-based TCG. “There was an economic downturn eight years ago and it wasn’t anything like this.”