New program wants theater workers to have a soft landing in New York’s resi market

Places Please offering grants to performers to return to New York

From left: Barbara Davis of Actors Fund, Places Please founders Lilli Cooper and Kyle Jarrow (Actors Fund, Places Please, iStock)
From left: Barbara Davis of Actors Fund, Places Please founders Lilli Cooper and Kyle Jarrow (Actors Fund, Places Please, iStock)

Trust Beyoncé to get Broadway in formation.

This spring, Andrew Lippa, a Tony-nominated composer, saw a tweet that the superstar singer had given out $5,000 grants to help people facing foreclosure or eviction. He wondered why the theater industry, whose members had scattered across the country when Broadway shut down for the pandemic, hadn’t done something similar.

Soon after, Lippa and four other theater workers formed the Places Please Project. It offers need-based grants of up to $5,000 for people in the industry who left New York during the pandemic and now want to return. The group recently teamed up with the Actors Fund, an entertainment industry–focused nonprofit, to help administer the program.

Moving to New York is daunting for most — between first month’s rent, a security deposit, relocation costs, and broker’s fees, new residents may have to dish out five figures before even stepping foot in their apartment. But for theater workers, it gets even more complicated, according to Barbara Davis, COO of the Actors Fund.

Broadway is a major industry for New York City. In the 2018-2019 season, it attracted 14.8 million people, an all-time high, and the industry contributed $14.7 billion to the local economy, according to the Broadway League, a trade association. It also supported nearly 97,000 jobs.

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But many who trod the boards also work day jobs and bounce between gigs in multiple theaters. Submitting full tax information for review can result in an avalanche of W-2s and pay stubs. Compared to regular affordable housing applicants, “it takes, on average, four times as long to figure out the application of someone in the performing arts,” said Davis.

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The pandemic further complicated the situation, shutting down Broadway and sending its workers scrambling. Now, as theaters prepare to reopen, jobs are coming back, but the people who want them often can’t afford to return.

In a survey by the Actors Fund, 13 percent of industry respondents living in New York left during the pandemic. Much of the need now lies with those who couldn’t afford to stay in the city in the first place, says Kyle Jarrow, a writer and Places Please board member. And if they want to get back, they’ll need money to do it.

Places Please aims to go beyond financial assistance, helping artists navigate the morass that is New York’s residential real estate market. With a lot of other funds, “you get a grant, which is wonderful, but then you’re on your own” said Jarrow. The program’s applicants meet one-on-one with Actors Fund staff to develop a viable plan, learning how to work with brokers, which neighborhoods are best for their needs, and how to arrange a sublet.