Signature Theatre’s Board of Directors has named Matthew Gardiner the new artistic director of the Arlington, Virginia, theatre company. Gardiner succeeds Eric Schaeffer, who, following sexual assault allegations, stepped down from the position in June 2020—three decades after he co-founded the theatre company.
At Signature, Gardiner has directed and/or choreographed more than 25 productions, including A Chorus Line, West Side Story, and Jelly's Last Jam. He has served as Signature’s associate artistic director for over a decade.
In line with the new leadership, the company has also announced its 2021–2022 season. Reopening the MAX Theatre will be a re-imagined staging of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Rent, November 2-January 2, 2022. Directed by Gardiner, the production will feature choreography by James Alsop (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and music direction by Mark G. Meadows (Signature’s After Midnight).
Around that time, Signature will also present the pre-Broadway engagement of KPOP, The Broadway Musical at The Anthem. Featuring a book by Jason Kim, music, lyrics, music production, and arrangements by Helen Park, music and lyrics by Max Vernon, choreography by Jennifer Weber, and direction by Teddy Bergman, the musical centers on K-pop superstars, who put everything on the line for a one-night-only concert. Exact dates for the presentation, produced by special arrangement with Tim Forbes and Joey Parnes, will be announced later.
KPOP played an acclaimed, sold-out engagement Off-Broadway in 2017 in a production from Ars Nova, Ma-Yi Theater, and the Woodshed Collective. A Broadway transfer was subsequently announced, with a global virtual casting call taking place last year.
Quiara Alegría Hudes' Daphne's Dive will reopen The ARK Theatre, playing February 1–March 20. Paige Hernandez will direct the Washington premiere of the play about a Philadelphia bar that becomes home for a disparate band of society’s outsiders.
Gardiner will also helm the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical She Loves Me, March 1–April 24. Kelly Crandall d’Amboise (Signature’s Grand Hotel) will choreograph with music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch (Signature’s Assassins).
The world premiere of The Upstairs Department, a new play by Chelsea Marcantel with direction by Holly Twyford, is this season’s SigWorks: The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative play. Set to run April 26–June 12, the play concerns a young man who wakes up with the power to communicate with the dead (or so he believes). Desperate for guidance and to connect with their late father, he and his skeptic sister set out to test his paranormal talent at the Lily Dale Spiritualist community.
We Won’t Sleep, a world-premiere musical based on the true story of a Montanan who became the first congresswoman in United States history, will be presented May 31–July 3. With a book by Lauren M. Gunderson (I and You) and music and lyrics by Ari Afsar (American Idol), the musical spotlights Jeannette Rankin, who shocked the world when she was elected to Congress in 1916, four years before white women got the right to vote. The show will be directed by Erin Ortman with choreography by Yusha-Marie Sorzano.
Timothy Douglas will direct the musical adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, which closes the season August 16– October 9. Dane Figueroa Edidi will choreograph with music direction by Mark G. Meadows. Felicia Curry (Signature’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity) will star as Celie.
Gardiner joins Managing Director Maggie Boland in a joint leadership model and will work with Signature’s Board and staff on shared goals for the future. “One of my first priorities as artistic director will be to build a new artistic team for Signature, adding collaborators who will be vital parts of not only the theatre's artistic future but also to our senior leadership team going forward,” said Gardiner. “I’m committed to building a team that includes viewpoints and backgrounds differing from my own.”
A national search for the positions of associate artistic director and a director of artistic development will begin immediately. Three new artistic positions have also been appointed: Jorge Acevedo has been promoted from casting and executive coordinator to the position of casting director/manager of artistic programs, Chelsea Pace (author of Staging Sex) will join Signature for the 2021–2022 season as resident intimacy consultant, and musician and music director Mark G. Meadows will be director of Signature cabarets.