The Road Back: APT is (mostly) All Right

Posted July 25, 2023 By Sara Young


In this month's installment of "The Road Back," Managing Director Sara Young explores today's uncertainty in the theater world, and APT's place in it.

In light of national coverage of hard times in the professional theater industry, we’ve gotten some questions recently about APT’s fiscal health. If you follow national theater news – or maybe even just The New York Times arts section – you know that the American theater is going through a rough patch, to say the least. Some would say it’s in crisis, or even collapsing.

The Public Theater, one of the largest in the country, just laid off 20% of its staff (about 50 people). Lookingglass, one of Chicago’s most exciting theaters, is reducing staff and producing “less and in different ways” in the coming year. Our colleagues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival launched an emergency fundraising campaign in order to produce the current season. Some two dozen theaters across the country have either closed or materially reduced their seasons over the last few months. We mourn each time we read of another closing or struggle – for the loss of art and the artists who are losing part of their livelihood.

And to be completely frank, APT is not immune to the struggles that afflict our peers. Our theater is also feeling the pressures of inflation, rising personnel costs, and smaller post-pandemic audiences. That is real. But it's not the end of the story. And we want you to know that APT is, for the most part, doing all right.

Let me explain:

Arts Consultant TRGArts published an article in May about how four different arts sectors are recovering from the pandemic. They compared ticket and contributed income between 2019 and the most recent season for over 300 arts organizations. For theaters in the benchmark, ticket revenue is down 33% and contributed revenue is down 23%. But APT is beating that trend: between 2019 and 2022, ticket income was up just a touch (.38%) and contributed revenue was up 26%.

We have you, our amazing audience, to thank for this extraordinary statistic.

APT attendance still has a ways to go to get back to normal. The number of people in our audience last year lagged behind 2019 by 13%. This year is shaping up to be a bit better, but we expect it will be 3-4 more years before we return to pre-pandemic numbers.

And then there is the expense side of the ledger. Inflation is a factor - wood, steel, printing, all the things - are more expensive. But there’s something else too: for years before the pandemic, the theater industry operated on a shoestring budget and some processes operated, as Brenda DeVita would say, on “a wing and a prayer.” One example is the understudy system. Before the pandemic, APT would maybe have 1 or 2 understudies each year actually go on. Not the case anymore. Last year, we had well over a dozen understudies go on, and sometimes we had to cancel performances because understudies weren’t available or weren’t yet ready. This year, we’ve remedied the situation by adding actors to the company and hiring extra staff to manage the process. But that comes with necessary extra cost.

With income rising slower than expenses, this year we have a deficit budget for the first time in many years. Fortunately, APT has reserve funds to meet the moment and close the gap. Of course, reserves that aren’t replenished don’t last forever. We know this is not a long-term solution, but it gives us a few years’ time to once again reach a balanced budget through increased fundraising and audience growth.

So why? Why are we doing “mostly okay” when so many other theaters are fighting for their lives?

We wholeheartedly believe our resilience in these difficult times is because of YOU, and the relationship we share. The relationship that you share with our artists, and the stories they tell. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen at other theaters – it does. But perhaps it feels a little different here in our woods.

This is a precarious time for sure. It’s more important than ever that we stay true to our mission, live our values, use every penny wisely, invest in our artists, and create an extraordinary experience for our audience. All of which we are confident we can do, with you by our side.

Thank you for your continued support, for being the best audience in the world, and for sustaining our theater in the woods.