It is with sadness that Signature Theatre announces its Founder James Houghton passed away at his home in Manhattan on August 2, 2016 after a two year battle with stomach cancer. He was 57 years old.
Under James Houghton’s leadership as Founding Artistic Director, Signature Theatre became one of the country’s preeminent theatre companies. Signature was the first company to dedicate a full season to a living writer’s body of work, and in the past 25 years has hosted a diverse roster of some of the theatre’s most exciting and accomplished playwrights. The company has since launched two additional residency programs, as well as the Signature Ticket Initiative, its groundbreaking ticket subsidy program. In 2012 Signature opened The Pershing Square Signature Center, the largest new theatre center in New York City in nearly 50 years, and was recognized in 2014 with the Regional Theatre Tony Award for its unique mission and outstanding body of work.
Since 2006, Mr. Houghton also served as the Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division at The Juilliard School. To enhance the program, Mr. Houghton and the Drama Division initiated significant new programming and opportunities for students. Among these opportunities are a new Master of Fine Arts Program, which offers free tuition and a living stipend during the fourth and final year of training; the introduction of a Playwrights Festival featuring performances of plays written by students of the renowned Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program; and a bridge to the profession through the creation of the Professional Studio hosted by Signature Theatre, allowing Juilliard’s actors and writers to collaborate closely and build lasting artistic relationships.
Mr. Houghton was honored by The Acting Company with the 2012 John Houseman Award for his profound commitment to developing American actors and building a diverse audience for the theatre, as well as the William Inge Festival’s 1998 Margo Jones Medal for an outstanding contribution to the American theatre. In 2015, he was awarded a Special Award for Sustained Achievement at the 60th Annual Obie Awards. In 2016, he received the Lucille Lortel Award for Lifetime Achievement and a Special Achievement Award from the Outer Critics Circle. In 2013, he was inducted into the College of the Fellows of the American Theatre and presented with an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts by his alma mater, Santa Clara University. Mr. Houghton has also served as the Artistic Director of the O’Neill Playwrights Conference (1999-2003), Artistic Director of the New Harmony Project (1996-1999), and the Artistic Advisor to the Guthrie Theater (1998-2012).
Houghton is survived by his wife Joyce O’Connor, children Henry and Lily Houghton, parents Joan and Sherrill Houghton, and siblings Scott Houghton, Susan Houghton Devine, Lynne Houghton and Trish Houghton Line.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to AfterWork Theater (www.afterworktheater.org) and Daniel’s Music (www.danielsmusic.org), two organizations that helped his son Henry’s life.
Details of a public memorial will be made available in the coming weeks.
About SIGNATURE THEATRE
Signature Theatre exists to honor and celebrate the playwright. Founded in 1991 by James Houghton, Signature makes an extended commitment to a playwright’s body of work, and during this journey, the writer is engaged in every aspect of the creative process. By championing in-depth explorations of a playwright’s body of work, Signature delivers an intimate and immersive journey into the playwright’s singular vision. In 2014 Signature became the first New York City theatre to receive the Regional Theatre Tony Award®.
Signature serves its mission through its permanent home at The Pershing Square Signature Center, a three-theatre facility on West 42nd Street designed by Frank Gehry Architects to host Signature’s three distinct playwrights’ residencies and foster a cultural community. At the Center, opened in January 2012, Signature continues its founding Playwright-in-Residence model as Residency One, a first-of-its-kind, intensive exploration of a single writer’s body of work. Residency Five, the only program of its kind, was launched at the Center to support multiple playwrights as they build bodies of work by guaranteeing each writer three productions over a five-year period. The Legacy Program, launched during Signature’s 10th Anniversary, invites writers from both residencies back for productions of premiere or earlier plays.
The Pershing Square Signature Center is a major contribution to New York City’s cultural landscape and provides a venue for cultural organizations that supports and encourages collaboration among artists throughout the space. In addition to its three intimate theatres, the Center features a studio theatre, rehearsal studio, and a public café, bar and bookstore. Through the Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access, Signature has also made an unprecedented commitment to making its productions accessible by underwriting the cost of initial run tickets, currently priced at $30, through 2031.
Signature has presented entire seasons of the work of Edward Albee, Lee Blessing, Horton Foote, Maria Irene Fornes, Athol Fugard, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, David Henry Hwang, Bill Irwin, Adrienne Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Romulus Linney, Charles Mee, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson, and a season celebrating the historic Negro Ensemble Company. The current Residency One playwright is Suzan-Lori Parks. The current Residency Five playwrights are Annie Baker, Martha Clarke, Will Eno, Katori Hall, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan and Regina Taylor. In addition to the Regional Theatre Tony Award®, Signature’s productions and its resident writers have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, Lucille Lortel Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and AUDELCO Awards, among many other distinctions.