Lilli Cooper, Kyle Jarrow and Andrew Lippa are on the board of Places Please Project. (Photos: Courtesy of Places Please)

Actor Lilli Cooper, writer Kyle Jarrow, composer Andrew Lippa and other theater industry members have teamed up to provide $500,000 in rental relief to theater workers in New York City. 

The group is providing relief through the newly created organization, Places Please Project, which has set a goal of distributing the rental relief to New York City-based artists, designers, musicians, technicians and administrators by April 2022. Places Please has created a five-part plan to accomplish this goal, which includes raising funds in two parts, assessing applications and administering the money. 

The fundraising efforts are kicking off with a $50,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor. Funds will be matched dollar-for-dollar through July 10. 

Annie Schiffmann, founder and chief executive of marketing company Downstage Media, and Kara Unterberg, founder of the New York SongSpace, also serve as board members. 

Lippa, president of the Dramatists Guild Foundation, arrived at the idea for rental assistance in late 2020 after seeing news reports of Beyoncé providing individual grants to renters in need.  While the theater community has been supported throughout the pandemic by organizations such as The Actors Fund, as well as the Dramatists Guild Foundation, Lippa sees Places Please as a means to fill in any gaps in coverage, in terms of eligibility, and provide continued support where needed.  

“We know story after story anecdotally of people who have left New York City, and are either going to have a hard time coming back to relocate or people who stayed in New York City, but had to go find a job elsewhere or their public assistance is going to run out,” Lippa said. “And so that’s what has motivated us.”

Lippa tweeted out an idea for the project in late 2020, calling for collaborators. Jarrow responded to the tweet and brought on Cooper, his “SpongeBob SquarePants” colleague. Schiffmann and Unterberg followed. 

The Tank NYC, a nonprofit performance venue and producer, is acting as a fiscal sponsor for the group, which allows donors to make tax deductible donations. Be An Arts Hero, a grassroots organization campaigning for arts relief, is also a partner. 

The organization’s five-step plan for distributing money includes an initial fundraising phase, with the goal of reaching $250,000. Once that threshold is reached, the group will open a six-week application process for grantees, who must show proof of 2020 earnings of $25,000 or less as well as rental requirements, among other qualifications. The third phase will see the awarding of $5,000 grants through a randomized lottery process for eligible applicants. 

After that, the organization will seek to raise and then distribute the second $250,000 in grants, with a targeted end date in April 2022. The timeline of grant funding allows Places Please to address the need Jarrow foresees even after the theater industry reopens. 

“It’s not going to be like the switch gets flipped and everything reopens,” Jarrow said. “It’s a little bit of a rolling process and so, I think there’s still going to be that need.”