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.
TW: Sexual abuse/harrassment
I didn't know any of these men before they messaged me with stories of the abuse they received at the hands of @sigtheatre Artistic Director #EricSchaeffer. @AmericanTheatre pic.twitter.com/uG9gipiBvC
— Thomas Keegan (@TheThomasKeegan) June 23, 2020
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.
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.
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Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Signature Theatre’s annual open house will take place in the Village at Shirlington between noon and 8:30 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 5), accompanied by a road closure.
The Arlington County Police Department will close Campbell Avenue from S. Arlington Mill Drive to S. Randolph Street from around 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the event.
Harris Teeter shoppers should plan to use the alternate entrance to the store’s parking garage while the road closure is in place, and street parking will be limited in the area.
The open house aims to introduce Signature Theatre’s 2018-19 season. Attractions include free performances, discounted tickets to upcoming shows and show merchandise at clearance prices.
Photo via Arlington County
Cabarets run for approximately one hour. Tickets for individual performances are $35 and all-access passes are available for $175.
The first ten cabarets are listed below. The full schedule may be found on Signature Theatre’s website, and performances run through Aug. 4.
- July 19 (8 p.m.) — The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.: It Takes Two
- July 20 (7 p.m.) — Rochelle Rice: American Remix
- July 20 (9 p.m.) — Mason Cabaret: An Evening with Stephen Sondheim
- July 21 (7 p.m. and 9 p.m.) — Bob McDonald: Best of Bob
- July 22 (5 p.m.) — Monumental Theatre: Flip Flop, A Miscast Cabaret
- July 22 (7 p.m.) — Nova Y. Payton and Mark G. Meadows: Hotter than July
- July 24 (8 p.m.) — Awa Sal Secka: Soul Divas
- July 25 (8 p.m.) — Nova Y. Payton and Mark G. Meadows: Hotter than July
- July 26 (8 p.m.) — Erin Driscoll: Ladies’ Night
The Washington Post has noted Signature Theatre’s cabaret series for lending the stage to out-of-town performers and promoting cabaret in the D.C. area. The Signature Theatre’s productions are routinely recognized as among the region’s best — they have won 107 Helen Hayes Awards and received 411 nominations.
Photos courtesy Signature Theatre