Signature Theatre’s long-time leader is stepping down following allegations of sexual harassment.
The Shirlington-based theater said in a statement today that co-founder and Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer is retiring at the end of the month. No mention was made of the allegations.
Over the weekend, actor Thomas Keegan resurfaced his assertion that Schaeffer repeatedly grabbed his genitals at a local 2018 award show. Signature said in a subsequent statement that the allegations were investigated and found to be “without merit.”
Keegan, however, said he was personally aware of at least one other person sexually assaulted by Schaeffer. Yesterday he posted screenshots of other accusers who reached out to him.
In a statement posted online at 2 p.m. today, Keegan said Schaeffer should have stepped down years ago.
Eric Schaeffer’s resignation is more than a decade overdue. As the #blacklivesmatter movement is proving, abuse of power is systemic, insidious, corrosive, and institutional. I believe that silence is complicity. The entire hierarchy of Signature Theatre, to include the board and people I once called friends and colleagues, has aided and abetted a sacrilegious abuse of power, criminal activity, and depraved behavior, in a theatre that good, hardworking artists call home. They have betrayed their patrons, their employees, and the artistic community. They should be removed and replaced by the next generation of theatre makers, honestly and transparently committed to creating safe spaces and pursuing our most pressing matter: racial justice and equity.
Signature, which is reported to be in good financial shape despite the pandemic and its money troubles six years ago, says it will now embark on a search for a new Artistic Director, with a focus on ensuring a diverse pool of candidates.
The full announcement from Schaeffer and Signature Theatre is below.
On June 30, 2020, thirty years after he co-founded Signature Theatre, Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer will retire from his position and depart the company. Signature Theatre released the following statement from Eric Schaeffer.
“After thirty years, with the world feeling upside down, I am retiring as Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Signature Theatre.
Three decades ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to create Signature Theatre with Donna Migliaccio. As I look back, I am proud of what we accomplished. We created a loving institution that brought musicals and plays to life in magical ways. Signature became part of an incredible community of the most talented performers, designers, and musicians and writers. This little theater grew from Gunston Arts Center to the beloved Garage to our current home in Shirlington – a truly incredible journey, made possible by the most dedicated and passionate staff in any theatre in America. I will forever be grateful and indebted to each of them, and I have no doubt that the DC theater community will be, too.
Through my years, I worked hard to support this community, its people, and its institutions. By helping to create the Taking Care of Our Own Fund, we established a way to serve our city’s theatre professionals in a time of need. I always looked to innovate and create pathways for more voices to be heard, with programs like the Women’s Voices Festival. I hope that the next generation of leaders can weather the many storms our profession faces. To do so, it needs to pull together, dedicate itself to the work, and avoid the toxic polarization that damages not just the institutions, but the work itself, the art.
I hope I leave our community in a stronger place as it struggles to find its way forward through the current COVID-19 crisis. I am proud of everything we accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to be this amazing company’s biggest cheerleader. I am going to miss our talented staff, the Board of Directors, the many volunteers, the artists and, of course, our audiences. Thirty years was an amazing ride and thanks to everyone who has helped to build Signature into the institution that it is today.”
The Signature Board of Directors will commence a search for a new Artistic Director. The Board’s recruitment process is committed to ensuring that the pool of candidates reflects diversity in race, gender, ethnic background, and professional experience. This inclusive selection process will be an important part of Signature’s responsibility to increased diversity and anti-racism.