By late November, Actors Equity Association—the union of live theater stage managers and actors—usually has released statistics on how many weeks of work Equity members chalked up in the previous 12-month season (not a calendar year). The break-down by categories—Broadway shows, resident companies, dinner theaters, etc.—is a good barometer of theater industry health and performing arts health more broadly. In Chicago, the stats for the Chicago Area Theater (CAT) contract are especially important. This year, the statistics are late and won’t be released by Equity until next week earliest and possibly not until after the first of the year. What Equity spokespersons have confirmed, however, is that the numbers will be down both nationally and locally.
In terms of economic factors, theater is what’s called a lag indicator responding more slowly to trends. Theater hardly was affected at all by the economic meltdown of mid-2008, the reason being that financial commitments already were in place for 2009. Especially with non-profit theater companies, the grant money from foundations, corporations and government agencies already was in the pipeline. Only in the past year has the theater industry felt the cash flow and grant pinch. One result: fewer Equity actors and stage managers employed. We’ll crunch the numbers for you when we get them.