History

Founded in 1989, Signature Theatre is a Tony Award®-winning regional theater that broadens and brightens the region’s cultural landscape with its bold productions of challenging new and established works and engaging education and outreach programs.

Musical theater has become Signature’s “signature,” and the Theatre is renowned for its definitive Sondheim productions, inventive adaptations of overlooked or forgotten works, and investment in fresh new projects.

Called a “musical theater powerhouse” by The Washington Post, Signature combines Broadway-caliber productions with intimate playing spaces and aims to be a leading force in U.S. musical theater. Since its inception, the Theatre has produced 56 world premiere works, including 19 new musical commissions, and is home to the single largest musical theater commissioning project in the United States, The American Musical Voices Project.

Thirty years ago, Washington, DC’s theater scene was dominated by large venues that presented mostly traditional plays. Few theaters dared to take the risk of producing new work, and even fewer produced lesser-known or new musicals. In 1989, to fill this gap and create a “signature” brand of provocative works, graphic designer and performer Eric Schaeffer took a risk and founded Signature Theatre with actor Donna Migliaccio. With a small startup budget, 126 subscribers, and a space in Arlington’s Gunston Middle School auditorium, Signature’s first musical in 1991, a gutsy production of Sweeney Todd, was a stand-out hit, putting Signature on the map, earning four Helen Hayes Awards and solidifying Signature’s reputation as an intrepid producer of Stephen Sondheim’s work.

Signature opens The Garage In 1993, Signature took another risk and converted an old auto garage into the theater where it thrived for the following thirteen years. While in the “garage,” Signature grew into one of the Washington area’s leading producers of musical theater, attracting the best and brightest in the field, as well as nurturing new talent.

In January 2007, Signature completed a $16 million capital campaign for a dramatic new two-theater facility that tripled its former garage space and now serves as the cultural anchor of Arlington’s Village at Shirlington.

On June 7, 2009, Signature received theater’s highest artistic honor – the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award® – in recognition of artistic excellence.
Maggie Boland and Eric Schaeffer accept the Tony on behalf of Signature

Today, attracting talent from the DC metropolitan region and New York, Signature has grown to reach more than 100,000 people annually from the Washington, DC region and beyond and garners praise from local and national press including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, BroadwayWorld.com, Playbill, Time, Variety, USA Today and American Theatre. Signature has won 128 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the Washington, DC region’s professional theater and has been honored with 452 nominations.

After 30 years as co-founder and Artistic Director, Eric Schaeffer retired in 2020. Signature Theatre is currently searching for a new Artistic Director with a commitment to ensuring that the pool of candidates reflects diversity in race, gender, ethnic background, and professional experience. This new Artistic Director, along with Managing Director Maggie Boland, will help lead and guide Signature Theatre into the future with a responsibility to increased diversity and anti-racism.