SigWorks: The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative

Blog: SigWorks: The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative

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SigWorks: The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative, a partnership with the Jenna and Paul Segal Foundation, is a multi-year commitment to present world premieres by female playwrights with female directors.

Broadway producer Jenna Segal is a dedicated advocate for women in the theater, and along with Signature, she created The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative to highlight the work of local, Washington, D.C.-area playwrights—from the page to the stage. Through this Initiative, Signature has been able to champion works written and directed by women through developmental workshops and full productions of new work, which is rare.

This program is dedicated to and named after acclaimed British playwright and screenwriter Heidi Thomas. Miss Thomas is the creator and executive producer behind the BBC’s Call the Midwife series, the revival of the beloved British series, Upstairs Downstairs, and adaptor of the 2015 Broadway revival of Gigi, directed by Eric Schaeffer and produced by Jenna Segal.  

“We are so proud to partner with Signature Theatre and sponsor a world premiere by a woman each year along with a female director,” said Jenna Segal. “These full productions are essential for women to hone their craft. We hope the writers will draw inspiration from Heidi Thomas whose writing across all media reminds us of the fundamental impact women’s works bring to the world.” 

“Female writers have so much to say, and all too often their voices are not heard,” said Heidi Thomas. “However, Signature and Jenna created a new and exciting platform for work entirely by women, where talent will not just be showcased, but also nurtured. I am proud beyond measure to be linked to this initiative and support it with my whole heart.”   The partnership also provides resources to help playwrights secure second and third productions by bringing artistic directors from across the country to Signature during the run of their plays to meet the playwrights and makes plans for future productions of these works. This is especially important in ensuring new theatrical works written by women receive the visibility they deserve and achieve success beyond their Signature premieres.  

Get to Know Jenna Segal

How did you become involved with Signature?

I began development on a musical at Signature with former artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, which ultimately went to The Kennedy Center and then Broadway. Signature was a sanctuary where we were able to do the early work necessary to take us all the way. Through my time living on the Signature campus, Heidi Thomas and I spent wonderful evenings enjoying the restaurants and special atmosphere Signature attracted to its piece of the world. From there, my husband Paul and I became more involved with Signature through the funding of The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative, setting a stake on the boards for women’s work to be presented on stage at Signature. 

What does The Heidi Thomas Initiative mean to you?

Heidi Thomas is one of the most powerful writers and showrunners in the world today. Focusing on the human experiences of women through her work on Call the Midwife, Gigi, Upstairs Downstairs, etc., Heidi reminds us of the importance of recognizing women’s experiences and brings those experiences to life in a way that is real and utterly relatable. It could not be more important for Heidi Thomas to be a symbol of hope and encouragement for new writers and directors regardless of their gender. Without funding parity, however, women’s stories can be lost which is why it is so important for women to know there is a place where their stories can and will be told. Signature Theatre, a location so close to today’s political theater, makes it the perfect ground for parity to take root. 

What do you want to see happen for women in theatre?

I would like to have women use theater to show their experiences are timeless and unifying, and more interconnected than we often feel, which was brilliantly exhibited in Heather McDonald’s work for the Initiative. Additionally, as exhibited so powerfully in 4,380 Nights by Annalisa Dias, women are equally as able to tell men’s stories as men are to tell women’s. It’s a tall order, it won’t happen overnight, or most likely in my lifetime, but RBG gave me the right to never worry about having a credit card, just how to pay the bill. I want women creators to be able to just worry about getting paid equally for their work—not whether or not they are represented equally on our stages.

Learn more about Jenna Segal:

Who is Heidi Thomas?

 Miss Thomas is the creator and executive producer behind the BBC’s Call the Midwife series and adapted the recent Broadway revival of Gigi directed by Eric Schaeffer and produced by Jenna Segal. Heidi’s award-winning theatrical work has been performed at the Liverpool Playhouse, the National Theatre Studio, The Almeida, Chichester Festival and Royal Court Theatres, the National Theatre of Norway, by the Women’s Playhouse Trust and by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her screenwriting has been acknowledged and awarded by BAFTA, the Emmys, The Writers Guild of Great Britain, Women in Film and Television UK, and the Royal Television Society. 

Learn more:

World Premieres developed through this Initiative

The Gulf by Audrey Cefaly (2016/17) 

4,380 Nights by Annalisa Dias, directed by Kathleen Akerley (2017/18) 

Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Heather McDonald, Directed by Nadia Tass (2018/19) 

Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes by Dani Stoller, Directed by Stevie Zimmerman (2019/20) 

The Upstairs Department by Chelsea Marcantel, Directed by Holly Twyford (2021/22)