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American Theatre Wing Announces COVID-19 Response, Postpones Obies

The Obie Awards will move online and the American Theatre Wing will move forward with plans to give money directly to artists.

NEW YORK CITY: The American Theatre Wing has announced plans for the first phase of its national COVID-19 response effort as well as the postponement of the 2020 Obie Awards. This initial phase will include new, rapid funding mechanisms aimed at supporting and sustaining the local and national theatre community as well as a series of new, online educational offerings.

“When the arts get lost or diminished in the conversation about federal relief, we rely in the non-profit sector to ensure that a ‘full recovery’ includes the true pride of our nation: its cultural institutions and the artists that make them shine,” said American Theatre Wing president and CEO Heather Hitchens in a statement. “This is just the first step in what will be a long road back, but it’s a vital one. Providing relief during dark and difficult times is baked deeply into the Wing’s DNA and, just as we have since our founding in the midst of World War I, we will rise to the occasion and serve as a beacon of light and hope.”

The first phase of this response effort will include three initiatives. The first section is the Theatre Artists Relief Fund, aiming to offer relief to New York’s Off- and Off-Off-Broadway artists after the shuttering of more than 90 productions. With the council and guidance of the Obie Awards’ Judges Panel, and with support from the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and the theatrical production company No Guarantees, the fund will use $250,000 to grant artists $500 each to help during these times of closure. The Wing has put together an online resource guide and grant application online to help Off- and Off-Off-Broadway artists determine their eligibility. The limited funds will be paid on a first come, first served basis.

The second initiative is the newly formed National Rapid Relief Fund, which will see the Wing send funds to some of the regional theatres around the country. The Wing will distribute $1,000 each to the 82 prior recipients of the National Theatre Company Grants. A list of eligible regional theatres can be found online.

The final initiative of this first phase will be a new series of live masterclasses available on Zoom and Facebook Live as the Wing looks to continue its mission to educate and empower the next generation of theatre professionals. Additionally, the Wing’s The Network (formerly, Theatre Intern Network – TIN), will move online.

Alongside the announcement of phase one was the news that the 65th Annual Obie Awards, originally scheduled for May 18, are being postponed and reconceived as a virtual event. Awards will be given for shows that opened between May 1, 2019 and March 12, 2020. More information, including the new date and time, will be announced in the coming weeks.

“There has likely never been a more important time to celebrate the work of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway artists,” said Hitchens in her statement. “While we won’t be able to hold the kind of celebration we normally do, we knew we needed to find a way to preserve the Obie tradition and honor the work of this remarkable season. We will, as usual, provide the laughs and the awards, but this year the beer is strictly BYOB.”

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