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Signature Theatre Denies Sexual Assault Allegation Against Co-Founder

Update on 6/24/20 — Schaeffer just announced his retirement.

Earlier: Shirlington-based Signature Theatre says newly-revealed sexual assault allegations against its leader “are false, misleading and without merit.”

Actor Thomas Keegan made the allegations public via social media on Sunday, after challenging Signature on a statement expressing a commitment to social justice. He says Signature co-founder and artistic director Eric Schaeffer repeatedly grabbed his genitals during a local theater awards show in 2018.

Yesterday, the theater — which in 2014 received a $5 million loan and rent abatement on its Shirlington location from Arlington County — responded with a statement (below) saying the allegations were investigated and found to be “not credible.”

Signature Theatre strives to play a positive role in our society and part of doing this is listening to our community in an open and fair manner. Living up to these values means taking all allegations of inappropriate or illegal actions seriously and then acting on those complaints according to robust and fair policies.

In May of 2018, Signature Theatre received a complaint concerning Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer. The Signature Board took the complaint seriously and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a third-party inquiry and Mr. Schaeffer was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the inquiry.

The third-party investigation was independent and involved numerous interviews with the complainant, Eric Schaeffer, current and former Signature staff along with attendees at the event where the incident allegedly took place. The investigator also did a comprehensive review of pertinent records including extensive email records and text messages.

The investigation concluded that the allegations were not credible. Signature’s Board of Directors unanimously accepted the investigation’s conclusions and Mr. Schaeffer was returned to his duties. The matter was then closed and no charges or actions against Signature or Mr. Schaeffer were ever filed. Recent allegations about this incident asserted on social media are false, misleading and without merit as evidenced by the independent investigation.

Keegan asserted that “at least one other actor I know was assaulted by Eric.” He also said that he told the Washington Post about what happened the day after the alleged assault; a search today found no articles on the topic.

Keegan’s full Twitter thread, with his account of what happened, is below.

I am going to resist my impulses to make this a longer post than it absolutely needs to be, with a detailed explanation of the event and reasons for why I have not spoken about this publicly until now.

I am stating this publicly to protect those who might be hurt if I were to stay silent longer, to honor the grief and struggles other people I know to have been victimized, & to illustrate how monumentally difficult it is for those without my innumerate privileges to come forward, particularly when their abusers are powerful men in arts leadership. Even as I write this, certain in the truth of it an mostly invulnerable to professional retribution, my hands sweat and tremble.

During the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards show, which was cohosted by my wife, Eric Schaeffer, the Founding Artistic Director of Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, VA, sexually assaulted me, grabbing or fondling my genitals through my pants [at least] three times over the course of a bewildering five minute exchange, including at least twice after I made it clear that I wanted him to stop. I went on the record about it to the Washington Post the next morning, and contacted Signature to file a complaint. At least one other actor I know was assaulted by Eric in a strikingly similar manor (years before and in the Signature building), and the whispers about Eric and the culture he has cultivated at Signature abound.

To that point, I shared this story with multiple artistic director friends, as well as my New York agents, who all had the same response: “I wish I could say I’m surprised.”

The Signature board conducted an independent investigation, for which I sat with a lawyer for 2.5 hrs, during which she dredged up my sex life (past infidelity, polyamory), emails from years prior (while I was employed by Signature) in which I placated and even played along with inappropriate overtures from Eric that included sexual advances, invitations to participate in ongoing prescription drug abuse, and an implied sexual quid pro quo in response to a comp ticket request.

I never learned the results of this investigation. The closest I came to receive an apology was when two popular Signature actors ambushed me before a matinee at Olney, conveying that Eric “felt awful about what he did,” as they tried to talk me out of coming forward.

I really don’t need condolences or sympathy. I’ve dealt with the shame and guilt of this in therapy, and I’m lucky to have a thriving career in this business and strong support system around me. But there are too many who do not.

I’m a large, capable man, who had established myself as a prominent member of the DC Theatre community, when I was assaulted. I am just about the least vulnerable member of that community, and he did it to me. When I came forward, he was protected, sheltered by Signature Theatre and its board of directors, and pushed toward a possible Broadway run. What makes me shudder is the danger in which artists more vulnerable than I will find themselves, have found themselves, and their virtually complete lack of recourse if they’ve been hurt.

Eric Schaeffer should have been removed from leadership two years ago, when multiple men brought complaints to Signature, and he should be removed today.

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