(Alexis Christoforous’s article appeared on yahoo.com, 3/13; via Pam Green.)

One year after theaters went dark because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s finally some light at the end of the long dark tunnel for the Broadway industry.

Beginning in April, select Broadway venues will welcome audiences — at reduced capacity — as part of New York state’s NY PopsUp program. The 100-day arts festival is being viewed as Broadway’s own “pilot program” as the industry prepares for a complete reopening — something industry experts believe is still six to nine months away.

“I think it’s huge,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association told Yahoo Finance Live. “We represent stage managers and actors who work on stages of all sizes across the country, from storefronts all the way up to Broadway theaters. But it’s hard to deny that despite the range of work we represent, Broadway is a bellwether. It was a bellwether when it shut down, and I believe that it sends a really positive sign that we are on a long path back to normal.”

As a major tourist destination, Broadway is an economic engine for New York City. According to a recent report from the Broadway League, Broadway theaters of all sizes contributed over $12.6 billion on top of ticket sales to the New York City economy. The same report found that Broadway supported more than 12,600 direct jobs and an estimated 74,500 indirect jobs in New York City.

“This pandemic has been especially brutal on arts workers,” said Shindle. “Most of us have been unemployed for a year now, and are desperate to get back to work the moment it’s safe. In the meantime, the need for relief is real and urgent.”

Shindle praised the passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes COBRA subsidies — something the Broadway industry has lobbied hard for. As part of the stimulus package, workers can receive subsidies through Sept. 30, 2021 that will cover 100% of their premiums on their union health plan. The plan also includes an extension of unemployment benefits, an additional $300 per week and $1,400 stimulus checks for those who qualify.

“We’ve had a year of watching a really large percentage of our industry gradually falling off their health insurance,” said Shindle. “The idea that people will no longer have to bear that expense themselves at a time when many of us have lost not only our careers, albeit temporarily, but also our survival jobs at restaurants and bars and all the other things that we do to make ends meet between performing jobs, the COBRA subsidy is going to be a really big deal.”

The relief package also includes $135 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities for supplemental COVID relief grants.

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