William Ivey Long and Evan Cabnet speak onstage during the 64th Annual Obie Awards on May 20, 2019. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for the 2019 Obie Awards)

The American Theatre Wing has redirected funds from this year’s Obie Awards to launch a grant initiative for Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway artists affected by COVID-19. 

The Wing, which presents the Obie Awards, has created a $250,000 fund that will award $500 grants to the artists who were part of 90 Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions that would have been eligible for the Obie Awards, but were impacted by the shutdown of theaters. The ceremony itself, which was scheduled for May 18 at Terminal 5 in New York, will be moved online to a date to be determined. 

The Wing, working alongside Obie judges Rachel Hauck and Sam Pinkleton, has created a database of eligible shows and artists. The grants, which are also supported by the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and the production company No Guarantees, will be awarded to any theater artist who is part of that database, as well as those outside it, who registers through a form on the American Theatre Wing website. The funds will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

“This is a gesture to say if you were one of those canceled shows you’ll be eligible to get some money,” Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, said in an interview with Broadway News. “What I hope it does is send the message that if everyone just does their part, we can get through this.” 

As part of the digital ceremony, the Obie Awards will give out awards for shows that opened between May 1, 2019 and March 12, 2020, the day large theaters in New York were ordered to close. Hitchens said she hopes the ceremony can also help bring needed visibility to the underrepresented theater communities in a time of need. 

In addition to the $250,000 grant, the Wing will also be making immediate gifts of $1,000 to all 82 regional theaters that previously received its National Theatre Company Grants, awarded annually by the Wing to innovative theater companies.

This is the first phase of the Wing’s philanthropic efforts related to COVID-19, Hitchens said, and the organization will continue to evaluate how it can continue to offer aid as needed. 

“This organization was founded in wartime, and we’re also a little bit in the fog of war right now,” Hitchens said.