Signature Stories

by Bryna Turner

in American Theatre magazine

There’s no doubt Signature Theatre Company is an all-around hit with playwrights. Romulus Linney, its first playwright-in-residence, called it “the best thing that’s ever happened to me in the theatre.” The twice-Signature-celebrated Horton Foote said, “It is truly a theatre home.” And Tony Kushner, the current playwright-in-residence, will even go so far as to say, “There’s no theatre I admire more than the Signature.”

But as Signature kicks off its 20th year designed “to honor and celebrate the playwright,” led by artistic director James Houghton, it is not only creating a new space, but also shedding light on a less-touted element of the playwright-centric theatre’s activities: the playwright’s many collaborators.

Through the new video series “Signature Stories,” the theatre is connecting the importance of their mission not only to playwrights, but also to those who have had the chance to work with them in this venue. In one of the first installments, “The Experience,” actors Kate Mulgrew, January Lavoy and Ethan Hawke, composer Loren Toolajian, and director Jo Bonney speak to how their work on a play was changed by having direct access to the playwright.

In another of 30-plus videos being released between June 1st and the grand opening of the Signature Center in 2012, Edward Norton gives a personal account of working as a young actor with Edward Albee on Signature’s production of Fragments. His anecdote provides humorous insight into Signature’s mission—or, as Norton puts it: “what it means to work with real writers.”

Of course, true Signature aficionados will be relieved to know that playwrights haven’t completely left center stage.  Lee Blessing’s video recently posted, and words from John Guare, Bill Irwin, and the late Lanford Wilson are still waiting in the wings. In the meantime, all budding playwrights should check out what it feels like to get the call from Houghton, so they can start planning their own fantasy seasons at Signature.

(When I get the call, I’m requesting the new Jewel Box Theatre—that is, after Fugard gets his turn.)