A Place Called Home: Signature Will Open Three-Venue Complex on West 42nd Street

News   A Place Called Home: Signature Will Open Three-Venue Complex on West 42nd Street
Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, with time running out on the lease of its West 42nd Street venue, has recently looked downtown for a new home. Its future, as it turns out, is just down the block.

The not-for-profit company committed to one playwright per season will move into the base of a 58-story (still-under-construction) high rise on 42nd Street, aiming for a 2011 residency. The hotel and residential building will house the company, which will operate three theatres in what will be called The Signature Center (including a 199-seat flexible space, a 199-seat fixed space and a 299-seat fixed space). A café, bookstore, lobby, office and rehearsal space are all part of the plan.

"The Signature Center, at 70,000 square feet of contiguous space, will allow Signature to realize the full potential of the company's unique mission," according to an Oct. 23 statement. "The trajectory of a playwright's career, from new and emerging, to established and celebrated, will be presented in three theatres — all under one roof, on one floor, with an open lobby plan that allows for an exciting collision of artists, theatre professionals, audience and community members."

The total theatre space cost will be $60 million, with the developer, Related Companies, taking some of that burden and building the theatre's core and shell, according to The New York Times. Signature will embark on a $20 million capital campaign to create the theatre. The Signature board has already come up with $6 million, and the city's Department of Cultural Affairs will add almost $10 million.

The Signature space will be designed by Frank Gehry.

The nascent building (to be 480 West 42nd Street near Tenth Avenue and 42nd Street) is a stone's throw from Signature's current 166-seat home at the Peter Norton Space at 555 West 42nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. According to the Times, by allowing space for a theatre, the developer of the building gains the right to build more square footage than the area's zoning usually allows. Expect 58 stories and 1.2 million square feet. The foundation work is almost done, and work on the structure itself is to begin in January 2009. The theatre's entrance will reportedly be at street level, with theatres on the second floor.

Founding artistic director James Houghton told the Times that the annual operating budget for the troupe would go from $4 million to $9 million once the move is made.

Houghton said in a public statement, "The Signature Center provides an incredible opportunity for Signature Theatre Company to realize the full potential of its unique mission and expand its contribution to the cultural landscape of the city and the community. For the past 18 years, the company has honored and celebrated playwrights through an intense focus on one writer's body of work each season. Now it is time to build upon the strong foundation of our mission and grow our programming to offer a deeper exploration for both artists and audiences alike. We are thrilled to be working with the City of New York and the Related Companies in taking Signature's artistic vision to the next level."

The troupe was founded in 1991. The artistic mission at the site follows:

  • Masters Playwrights Program – Exploring Bodies of Works: Explores the known and lesser known works of playwrights with major bodies of work (Signature’s current programming).
  • Emerging Playwrights Program – Building a Body of Work: Seek out and feature younger, developing playwrights.
  • Legacy Program: Signature Series and Premiere Series – Celebrating Bodies of Works: Celebrate the lifetime achievements of the artists who have previously worked at Signature, with premiere and signature works. Expect seven to nine Signature productions produced annually under the Off-Broadway contract, with up to seven playwrights in residence in one season.

    Signature's current season is devoted to writers and works that emerged from Negro Ensemble Company, a rare twist on Signature's mission.

    For more information visit www.signaturetheatre.org.

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