Monday, March 09, 2009

The Red Zone

In an article in TimeOut Chicago, Kris Vire outlines the theatre companies sitting on the faultlines:

For many arts nonprofits the size of About Face and the House, unfortunately, working week to week is their reality. Smaller companies without payroll or other fixed expenses can more easily roll with the punches; institutions the size of Steppenwolf or Goodman have deep-pocketed donors and budgets large enough to survive economic hiccups. (As Chicago magazine accounted last month in its salary report, the 300 grand that’s life or death for companies like About Face is equal to or less than the individual annual compensation of Goodman’s Robert Falls and Chicago Shakespeare’s Barbara Gaines.)

Midlevel companies with budgets between $250,000 and $1 million are the most at risk, the League reports; 70 percent of Chicago companies of that size report decreased ticket sales, with nearly as many lagging in contributed income.

Many theaters this size, particularly in Chicago, also face the challenges of itinerancy; producing in varying spaces can make fund-raising needs unpredictable. And many organizations at these levels don’t have much room for error in their budgets. “It’s common for a lot of theaters to only have two or three payrolls in their cash flow,” says arts marketing and development consultant Adam Thurman, who blogs about the nonprofit arts. “If they have a surplus, rather than set it aside, they roll it into next year’s budget and increase line items: hire more actors, increase staff pay. I understand that, but then something like [the downturn] happens. Then what?”

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