A visit to the new Signature Theatre

The cast of the world premiere of "Hurt Village", by Katori Hall.

On January 31st, a brand new theatre venue opened in midtown. For those of you who may not be complete theatre nerds, let me translate. This is a BIG deal. The typical news story in this economy would be about a theatre closing, or shedding staff, or reducing the number of productions it will be doing each season for the foreseeable future. So imagine the shock and awe (and considerable envy) of the theatre community when Signature Theatre opened their three brand spanking new theatres in the new MIMA tower on 42nd and 10th. The inside of each theatre is designed by renowned architect Frank Ghery, and boasts is own unique shape and environment, providing a wide range of opportunities for the scale and type of production Signature Theatre can now produce. The three theatres share a common lobby, encouraging pre-and post-show mingling of audiences who have seen different productions.

But let’s get down to the important stuff. The lobby has slick, stylish café tables. And couches. And coffee and free wifi. And bathrooms with enough stalls to make it back from a 10-minute intermission in time! Combine that with its corner location and ample natural light, and you’ve got practically the equivalent of the four seasons for theater-goers. Most Off-Broadway patrons (and some Broadway patrons for that matter), are accustomed to dealing with drastically insufficient lobby space (if there is any at all), approximately 2 bathroom stalls for every 200 audience members, and rarely, if ever, a place to relax and hang out that is not your ticketed seat. The New Signature Theatre Center offers all of this and more. There is even a mini bookstore where you can peruse various scripts and literature related to the themes of the current season’s shows.

Now that I’ve sufficiently gushed about the unbelievable amenities at this new space, I suppose it’s a good time to also mention that Signature Theatre, founded in 1991, has also drastically expanded its programming. Historically dedicated to an entire season of productions of one mid- to late-career playwright’s work, they have now expanded to include five multi-year residencies of early career writers, programming one production per year by each of these younger talents.

First up with a production in the Courtyard Theatre is Katori Hall (whose name you might recognize from The Mountaintop, now playing on Broadway – and also an alum – CC ’03). Will Eno, Kenneth Lonergan, Regina Taylor and Annie Baker round out the list. This solid roster, in conjunction with Edward Albee returning as part of the Legacy Program (Signature dedicated a season to him in 1993-94), and Singature’s first-ever international playwright Athol Fugard occupying the flagship residency slot, makes for a robust season of programming – all by living playwrights. This is truly an accomplishment for any nonprofit theatre, and it seems fitting that Signature has matched their gutsy growth spurt with an equally bold lineup of world premiere plays.

But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. Thanks to the Signature Ticket Initiative, made possible by a few major donors, Signature has committed to keeping their ticket price at $25 per seat at every production! Compare that with $60 – $85 tickets at other Off-Broadway spaces, and then see where your student budget takes you the next time you want to go to the theatre.

Needless to say, if you find yourself in midtown, don’t forget to pay this new space a visit. I’m excited to see how the new life of this unique theatre unfolds.

For more info visit the Signature Theatre website. Tip: The lobby/café is open from 10AM – midnight on weekdays and noon – midnight on weekends, so you can drop in whenever, even if you’re not seeing a show!

– Meropi Peponides, Theatre MFA, 2013

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