Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Produces In a Way No Other NYC Theatre Does

Interview   Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Produces In a Way No Other NYC Theatre Does
 
Led by artistic director Paige Evans, the Signature operates on a model that cultivates playwrights and community.
Paige Evans
Paige Evans Marc J. Franklin

In the ecology of New York theatre, Signature Theatre’s mission is a singular one in that it not only provides an artistic home for playwrights, it commits to a writer’s body of work. Through its three residency programs, the theatre provides the opportunity for as many as 11 playwrights-in-residence (currently including the likes of Lynn Nottage and Dave Malloy) to produce work at the same time. “That’s the core of Signature and everything else comes from that,” says Paige Evans, who took over from founder James Houghton as artistic director in 2016.

As a playwright-based theatre, Signature remains community-orientated; its current home, the Frank Gehry–designed Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, facilitates this perfectly. A three-theatre facility with a large, light-filled public space at its center, the lobby is a hub of pre- and post-show conversation. “We start the [staggered] curtain [times] at 7:30 PM so that everybody is in the space together beforehand,” says Evans. “It’s got a very dynamic feeling that way.” And thanks to Signature’s ticket initiative, which offers $35 tickets without age restrictions, lotteries, or rush lines, the theatre ensures that its community of theatregoers is not just limited to those with steeper pockets.

Behind the scenes, Signature nurtures its community of resident writers through artistic support, rehearsal space, two offices, and a library. “It’s very important to us that the playwrights feel this is a home, and I think they really value that, too,” says Evans, who is regularly in conversation with the artists. “It’s one of the things that I really relish in this job.”

Evans, whose previous role was at the helm of LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater, built her career on working with playwrights in development and on new writing. Her transition into the artistic directorship at Signature, therefore, was a logical next step. Collaborating with writers—deciding what to produce out of their body of work as well as the mutual pursuit of artistic excellence on each individual production—is the foundation of her job.

“It was appealing to come to a theatre where I would get to collaborate with a writer over a series of plays,” she says. “You learn about their work, their process, and how to communicate. You develop a mutual understanding, and hopefully a trust, too.”

While the position satisfies Evans’ artistic values, it’s the theatre’s longstanding mission of celebrating playwrights that pushes her to continue evolving in the role, and to grow the theatre as well.

“There’s a real core integrity to Signature that I really respond to,” says the artistic director. “I want to stay true to the mission and I want to build on it in what I hope are exciting and dynamic ways.”

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