The Educational Theatre Association’s August survey, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Theatre Education,” has confirmed the profound effect of the pandemic on school theatre throughout the United States, leaving many programs at significant risk in the coming years.
The survey queried more than 11,000 middle and high school theatre educators about the status of their programs in the pandemic environment. Nearly 2,400 teachers responded, offering a snapshot of how COVID-19 has reshaped both their teaching methods and student learning opportunities.
Analysis shows programs have suffered substantial revenue losses, with 91% of schools forced to cancel performances in spring 2020. For many programs, ticket revenue provides the main source of funding, as 44% receive no financial support from their districts. Money lost to investments in canceled productions coupled with lack of spring ticket sales created a ripple effect on current season budgets. In fact, 22% of programs faced cuts for the 2020-21 academic year.
Many survey respondents reported 2019-20 revenue losses that were substantially more than they earned, and it is likely the economic downturn will limit other funding support this school year and beyond. For teachers, the impact raises short-term concerns about student recruitment, morale, and motivation as well as longer-term uncertainty about reductions in program capacity, external funding, and student opportunities.
According to James Palmarini, EdTA director of educational policy, the cancellations and lost revenue numbers were not unexpected, but still troubling. “We knew many theatre programs had to cancel their shows in the spring, but the numbers regarding those lost productions and revenue are still very sobering,” he said.
Palmarini added there was hope from respondents for the current school year, with 59% answering “maybe” and 19% “yes” to a question regarding whether they thought they would produce a live show in 2020 or 2021, and 97% indicating they were returning to their positions in fall 2020.
Seventy-five percent of educators stated they were starting the school year entirely virtually or in a hybrid model. The data on how they are adapting to the virtual environment suggests a broad range of strategies, with no predominant mode for reaching students. In the spring of 2020, the most frequently realized instructional strategies were virtual lessons taught asynchronously and available on-demand; project-based lessons spanning multiple class periods; instructional videos or digital games; and digital versions of lesson packets with worksheets.