SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


The Nonprofit Theatre Sector Attracted 23 Million Attendees in 2020

  • Posted Nov 23, 2021

A new report from Theatre Communications Group (TCG) examines data on 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 nearly $2.1 billion to the U.S. economy and attracted 23 million attendees, according to Theatre Facts 2020released 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.

Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Photo by Kim Leeson Photography (2021). Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Photo by Kim Leeson Photography (2021).

Theatre Facts 2020 provides a critical perspective on the fiscal state of our theatre ecology during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director, TCG. “Theatres were able to offset some of their lost ticket income through significant increases in individual giving and government support--both signs that theatres remain deeply valued parts of their communities. By also reducing expenses, theatres were able to keep their bottom line, measured as Change in Unrestricted Net Assets (CUNA), positive for the fifth year in a row. However, that reduction in expenses came at the painful cost of a workforce reduction. While these losses of the past year have been significant, the report also speaks to the resilience and innovative nature of our theatre ecology. We’re not out of the pandemic yet, but Theatre Facts 2020 underlines the many strengths that theatres will draw upon as they continue to reopen.”

Theatre Facts 2020 reflects data from the fiscal year that theatres completed between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. “These findings shed light on how the theatre field’s finances and operations were impacted at the very start of the pandemic,” said Zannie Giraud Voss, director, SMU DataArts. “Future iterations of this report will reveal extended pandemic-related impacts as well as provide data to inform the rebuilding and reimagining of the theatre field through an equitable lens to ensure all are welcomed and supported in the theatre for years to come.” Following an Executive Summary, the report presents data in three ways: 

  • The Universe: a broad overview of the estimated 1,422 U.S. professional not-for-profit theatres. 
  • Trend Theatres: a longitudinal analysis of the 152 theatres that participated in either the TCG Fiscal Survey or CDP each year from 2016 to 2020.
  • Profiled Theatres: a detailed examination of all 206 theatres that completed a CDP in 2020 with data broken out into six budget categories based on annual expenses.

Key Findings from Theatre Facts 2020

Unless otherwise noted, all of the financial changes reported in this press release reflect average, inflation-adjusted figures for the Trend Theatres for the 5-year period from 2016 to 2020.

+ Average 5-year earned income rose annually then fell in 2020, resulting in a 5-year decrease exceeding inflation by 13%. Average single ticket income was 33% lower in 2020 than in 2016 (40% lower than 2019), and subscription income fell by 29% over the period, with a 5-year high in 2019.

+ All levels of government support were at their 5-year peak in 2020, with perhaps some growth explained by COVID-19 relief funding. 

+ Average contributed income from other individuals (non-trustees) grew 46% over the 5-year period, including a 37% increase from 2019.

+ The average theatre’s budget size shrank by 12% from 2019 to 2020. The biggest shift was a 2020 cut in general and management personnel expenses, which was nearly half its 2019 level. 

+ Working capital improved to a 5-year high in 2020. Over half of theatres in 2016 had negative working capital, dropping to 39% of theatres in 2020.

For further information on the changes experienced by the field between 2016 and 2020, and on differences in income, attendance, and expenses between theatres of various sizes, see the Trend Theatres and Profiled Theatres sections of the full report. 


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Theatre Communication Group’s Theatre Facts 2020 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; Adrian Budhu, deputy director and COO, TCG; Teresa Eyring, executive director and CEO, TCG; and Laurie Baskin, director of Research, Policy & Collective Action, 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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