Sydney Theatre Company has released its annual report, which shows audience numbers reaching almost 400,000, tempered by large-scale investments such as touring Andrew Upton’s The Present to Broadway and producing Muriel’s Wedding the Musical resulting in an operating deficit.

The company recorded 397,830 paid attendances to STC shows in 2017, up from 382,576 in 2016, the company giving 884 performances to an average capacity of 89% across the year. Overall subscription numbers were slightly down on 2016 (though higher than 2015) while non-subscription activities were up significantly.

Despite the high audience numbers – and excluding contributions to STC’s capital appeal (which produced a surplus of $5.8 million, up from $2.3 million in 2016) – the company recorded an operating deficit of $4.2 million.

“STC ended 2017 in a stronger financial position overall,” said STC Chair Ian Narev. “Our operating deficit, whilst significant on its face, was driven by around $1.8m of timing adjustments between the 2017 and 2018 reporting periods. These included the accounting treatment of costs and revenues in relation to our production of Muriel’s Wedding; a re-allocation of subscription-related marketing expenditure; and adjustments to revenues of our ticketing operations.”

“Excluding depreciation of $1.2m, STC had a $1.2m cash loss. This was due to the cancellation of a fundraising event to farewell The Wharf ahead of the planned renewal project; the conclusion of a major sponsorship, and a larger than anticipated expenditure on repairs and maintenance,” he said. “We never take operating deficits lightly. They remind us that non-profit cultural institutions have an inherent financial vulnerability. However we have been accumulating reserves over the past few years to allow us to produce ambitious programs, and to manage the disruption from our Wharf Renewal Project.”

Narev attributed part of the less than rosy operational result to the dates of reporting, with the highly successful season of Muriel’s Wedding – which returns to Sydney in July 2019 – straddling 2017 and 2018. “The bulk of the costs of Muriel’s Wedding are in the 2017 result,” Narev said, “meaning that nearly all the profit from this production will be in next year’s result.”

Touring The Present to Broadway was a boon for the company’s audience numbers and international profile, resulting in 95,000 tickets sold and a Tony nomination for Cate Blanchett. The production was the third highest-grossing play in the 2016 – 2017 Broadway season, despite a mixed critical response.

“We didn’t make money from the enterprise,” Artistic Director Kip Williams told Limelight last year. “But for us, STC going to Broadway with The Present was always a culture-driven exercise and the major success for us is landing an Australian written show on Broadway with 13 Australian actors and an Australian design team – and for it to have been received in the way that it was, was extraordinary for us.”

Sydney Theatre Company’s 2017 Annual Report is available here.