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December 15, 2008

NEA Is Late to the Theater

The NEA's sparkling-new brochure, "All America's a Stage: Growth and Challenges in Nonprofit Theater," manages to feel dated even on the day of its release.

Take this paragraph from Dana Gioia's generally upbeat preface:

Has the nonprofit theater sector expanded too quickly? Seemingly not. Despite the broad and rapid expansion of nonprofit theaters, these organizations have generally healthy finances. Their balance sheets are strong, with assets growing and liabilities remaining flat. Nonprofit theaters have also effectively diversified their sources of support. Individual patrons have collectively increased their already high levels of giving, providing over 40 percent of contributed revenue.

Since strong balance sheets are transparently no longer the status quo, I can't help wondering if the paragraph that follows was shoehorned in so that the report wouldn't appear completely irrelevant, not to say delusional. It reads, in full:

The only area for concern in the healthy financial profile of the nonprofit theaters is their historical vulnerability to large economic downturns. During both of the last two major recessions, total revenue and contributions fell markedly. This vulnerability could create issues for the nonprofit theater community in the current recession.

Oh, that.

Briskly moving on, Gioia grimly identifies "one significant and persistent problem facing American theater--attendance for spoken theater has steadily deteriorated." (The shrinking audience may be due in part to "lower media coverage," he says.) But there's good news! "These audience declines do not seem primarily dependent on high ticket prices. Audiences appear willing to pay higher prices for events they want to attend."

Uh, a pair of predictions: In future research, the audience for musical theater will be found to have declined around now, too -- as will cash-strapped theaters' ability to produce musicals. And ticket prices will be found to have been very much an issue.
December 15, 2008 9:48 AM | | Comments (0)

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