The Guthrie Theater ended the year with a balanced budget despite a drop in income and higher expenses.
Led by a 5 percent decrease in ticket sales, total revenue declined 3.5 percent to $27.1 million in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, according to the Minneapolis theater's annual report Monday. It blamed that drop on relatively slower sales for the 2017 summer musical "Sunday in the Park With George" compared with the previous year's "South Pacific," the highest-grossing production in Guthrie history.
Expenses rose 6.4 percent to $27.9 million. But the Guthrie's first season fully curated by artistic director Joseph Haj ended with a surplus of $19,029, as the shortfall was covered by board-designated funds for projects and building costs.
While total contributions were down slightly, to $9.3 million, the number of individual donors increased 16 percent. And, bucking a national trend, the theater increased the number of subscribers to 19,623, the most in five years.
The theater also aggressively paid down its debt on the riverfront facility it opened in 2006 — from $14 million to $6.5 million.
"Fiscal responsibility is one of our core values," Haj said in an interview Monday. "Our role as a not-for-profit is to make as much excellent art as we can within the financial rigors of what the budget can allow. We have a lot to be proud of."
The revenue dip was partly attributable to a drop in corporate and government support, said managing director Jennifer Bielstein, while expenses rose because of "significant investments in our plant, our website, the strategic planning process and our brand."
The Guthrie staged 655 performances in fiscal 2016-17 — 28 productions in all — compared with 578 the year before. Top shows were the perennial favorite "A Christmas Carol" (which played to 96 percent of capacity), the culture-clash comedy "Native Gardens" (87 percent), British royal drama "The Lion in Winter" (85 percent) and Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," directed by the Jungle Theater's Sarah Rasmussen (83 percent).
Numbers alone never tell the story, Haj noted.
There also were public dialogues and civic engagement around such issue-themed shows as "The Parchman Hour" (civil rights) and "Refugia" (immigration). The Guthrie also made itself available for quick-response "happenings" for topical, urgent discussions, as well as $9 shows in the ninth-floor studio as part of the Level Nine Initiative, backed by a $1 million multiyear grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
That has helped attract throngs of young people to the theater. The Guthrie provided 23 percent of its tickets to students, teachers and others either free or at an average price of less than $10 per ticket.
The Guthrie also diversified its creative teams, both on stage and off, and more than doubled the number of female collaborators in the past two years to 39 percent in 2017.
"It's thrilling to see that we have such a reach," said Haj. "We'll continue working diligently to make sure that the community stays with us and that we serve it in many ways."