SigWorks Q&A with Joe Calarco

Blog: SigWorks Q&A with Joe Calarco

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Signature Theatre is very pleased to announce the creation of SigWorks. We thought we might hear from the program’s leader, Joe Calarco.

What is your Signature story? How have you been previously involved with the theatre?

The first time I ever saw a show at Signature was back in the early 90s when they were still at the Gunston Arts Center. I went to college with Vanessa Lock and she was in Eric’s production of Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. I was so knocked out by the play and the production and just the energy surrounding the company. It really stuck with me. Flash-forward about six years and my adaptation R&J was running in New York and choreographer Karma Camp saw it. I didn’t know her at the time, but I found out later that she told Eric about the show and that I might be a good fit with Signature as a director. I happened to be down in DC meeting with a number of theaters and I met with Eric and we hit it off right away and he gave me the script of Nijinsky’s Last Dance, and I read it on the train back to New York, and I fell in love with it. That was the first show I directed at Signature and it ended up being very successful and was the first of twelve shows I’ve directed here so far, including two world premieres of my own plays, and I’m about to write my 11th play for the Signature in the Schools program, which is one of my favorite projects to work on each year.

What is your role here at Signature Theatre? What does that role entail?

I’m Director of New Works as well as Resident Director. In terms of new work, I read a lot of scripts, see what might be a good fit for Signature in terms of development or even production, and then I pass those on to Eric to see what he thinks. We have two new programs that we’re launching this season that will require a good deal of sorting through submissions and perusing that material. It’s very exciting. And I’ll be reading a lot. I also have a bunch of my own writing that I’m working on at the moment- the musical SCKBSTD that I’m writing with composer Bruce Hornsby and lyricist Chip Dematteo that we’re doing a workshop of in August. And of course I’m knee deep in research mode for this year’s Signature in the Schools piece which is called I-95 which is about civil rights in America.

SigWorks is one of the latest and most exciting aspects of Signature’s upcoming season. What more can you tell us about this new program and the types of things it holds?

Signature has always been one of the country’s most daring theaters in terms of producing new work and giving writers the chance to develop their work. I’m thrilled we’re expanding that vision even further with a number of new programs under the SigWorks banner including a Monday Night New Play Reading Series starting in October and with another very exciting program starting next summer that will be announced in the Fall. And of course I’m excited to be directing the world premiere of the new musical Cake Off.

What excites you the most about getting to interact with a brand new piece of theatre that has never been read or performed before? How do you approach a new work?

Well, there’s nothing harder to do than to put pen to paper and write a new script or score. I really respect the work it takes and I understand the difficulty, being writer myself. I always try to start out by asking the writer questions, and I think it’s important to encourage the writer to remind themselves why they started writing the piece in the first place. Why did it need to be unleashed from them? What was the inspiration?

What do you foresee the role of new works at Signature being?

It’s important to provide opportunities for writers to hear and see their work. There is only so much time you can spend sitting at the typewriter or computer. It needs to start to live and breathe. Again Signature has always supported new work. The new programs will expand that mission even more by giving writers a chance to have their work nurtured during the many stages of development.

Be sure to make it to the first night of SigWorks: Monday Night New Play Reading Series on October 5th at 7 PM in the Signature Theatre lobby.