Economic climate making theaters nervous

WASHINGTON — Bill O’Brien, director of theater and musical theater for the National Endowment for the Arts, agrees that nonprofit theaters in the U.S. are “extremely nervous” about the economic climate. But he says their ability to maintain audiences and funding while other retailers sustain declining revenues is “a testament to the committed relationships theaters have developed with their audiences.”

Nonetheless, he reports, theaters are bracing for shrinkage of donations at every level. While that might impact programming choices for some, O’Brien feels it doesn’t necessarily mean a retreat from producing new works.

He says recent discussions with managing directors about their upcoming strategies have revealed one consistent message: “The last place they are looking to cut is in their productions. Theaters can’t start delivering things that will generate less enthusiasm.”

Fortunately, he says, American theaters have demonstrated a resilience to economic pressures in recent years, with net revenues improving in the long run. These and other themes will be explored in an NEA report on the economics of theater due in December.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more