New Study Reveals Significant Impact of Chicago’s Storefront Theatres

Despite limited resources, 41 small theatre companies in Chicago filled a combined quarter of a million seats last season and staged more than 60 world premieres

CHICAGO [November 20, 2019]— The Chicago-based Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (the Foundation)—an organization that offers unrestricted grants to Chicago theatre companies with budgets under $1 million—recently surveyed its small theatre grantees to reveal the large impact they make in Chicago. A total of 41 of Chicago’s approximately 250 theatres participated in the Foundation’s survey, representing a significant percentage of the city’s storefront theatres.

Insights gleaned from the recent study include the vast size of combined audiences at small theatres in the city: approximately 267,400 audience members were served last season alone. Additionally, survey results confirmed the wide-reaching efforts of small theatres to be more inclusive, accessible and diverse: 100% of the surveyed companies reported a commitment to these issues through their theatre’s mission, selection of productions, community engagement initiatives, educational programs and/or day-to-day operations. Significantly, small theatres in Chicago also present a large volume of new work: more than one-third of the 170+ total productions produced by the surveyed theatres last season were world premieres.

“Storefront theatres are the lifeblood of our city’s artistic vitality, and our recent study proves just that,” said David Farren, executive director of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. “Our goal—especially as we close out this Year of Chicago Theatre—is to enable small theatres to continue to push boundaries so that they not only achieve their artistic visions, but also continue to economically and culturally benefit their communities.”

Thanks in part to the Foundation, many small storefront theatres have strengthened operations, produced new works and furthered initiatives that are relevant to both the artists and their neighborhood audiences. Three theatres have recently “graduated” from grantee status, now receiving funding from other foundations that fund larger organizations: The House Theater of Chicago, Porchlight Theatre and Stage 773.

The Foundation supports small theatre companies with multi-year general operating grants ranging from $2,500 to $13,500 annually, plus an array of additional organizational development opportunities including one-on-one feedback from staff and consultants, reimbursements for trainings tailored to grantee needs, and a cash reserve program.

The 2019 Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation study surveyed 41 small Chicago theatres and yielded the following insights:

  • Approximately 267,400 audience members attended the theatres’ productions last season, a number equivalent to about 10% of the entire population of Chicago
  • 66% of the theatre companies staged world premieres last season, representing 39% of the total 170+ productions produced
  • 100% of the surveyed companies are dedicated to addressing issues of accessibility, diversity and inclusion – through their mission, selection of productions, community engagement initiatives, educational programs and/or day-to-day operations
  • 56% of the theatres have dedicated educational programs or initiatives in their communities, with more than 12,800 students served annually
  • One out of four theatres surveyed charge $25 or less for one single adult admission ticket, with one out of seven offering free or pay-what-you-can tickets, confirming storefront theatres are among the most accessible and inclusive performing arts organizations in Chicago
  • 71% of theatres stated that contributed funds—such as foundation grants, government support and donations—make up more than half of their annual income


Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation theatre grantees surveyed for this study:

  • A Red Orchid Theatre
  • Artemisia Theatre
  • The Artistic Home
  • Babes With Blades Theatre Company
  • Broken Nose Theatre
  • Chicago Tap Theatre
  • City Lit Theater Company
  • Congo Square Theatre
  • eta Creative Arts Foundation
  • First Floor Theater
  • First Folio Theatre
  • Free Street Theater
  • The Gift Theatre
  • Griffin Theatre Company
  • Interrobang Theatre Project
  • Irish Theatre of Chicago
  • Lifeline Theatre
  • Lucky Plush Productions
  • Midsommer Flight
  • The Neo-Futurists
  • Pegasus Theatre Chicago
  • Piven Theatre
  • The Plagiarists
  • Porchlight Music Theatre
  • Pride Film and Plays
  • Raven Theatre
  • Red Tape Theatre
  • Redtwist Theatre
  • Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
  • Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
  • Rough House Theater
  • Shattered Globe Theatre
  • Silk Road Rising
  • Steep Theatre
  • Strawdog Theatre Company
  • Teatro Vista
  • Theatre Y
  • Third Eye Theatre Ensemble
  • Trap Door Theatre
  • Walkabout Theater


About Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and regional collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. GDDF awards $1.7 million annually to 175 creatively accomplished small arts organizations in the Chicago metro area. For more information visit


Press Contact:
Amanda Berrios/Elizabeth Neukirch
The Silverman Group, Inc.


[Photos clockwise from upper left – Red Tape Theater, Neo-Futurists, Pegasus Players, The Artistic Home; Click HERE to download images.]


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