Washington theater plans new digs for '05

WASHINGTON — The Signature Theater is headed uptown.

The 12-year-old theater, noted for turning out quality productions in a dingy and cramped former auto body shop here, has reached an agreement with Arlington County to occupy a new space to be constructed in the nearby village of Shirlington. It’s slated to open in July 2005.

But first, the company is seeking to raise $7 million that will be used to furnish the space, expand artistic programming and meet other goals. The county, in turn, will ante up $5.5 million to build the property that it will lease to Signature.

Cutting-edge fare

Founded by Eric Schaeffer and Donna Migliaccio, Signature has built a loyal audience with an eclectic schedule of plays and musicals. The 126-seat theater specializes in new works and productions with an edge.

Signature has held difficult negotiations with the county about its future over the past few years, but managing director Sam Sweet said he is satisfied with the county’s latest plan to invest in the operation. When it moves into its new space about a mile away, Signature will broaden its outreach to Arlington County schools, launch a summer musical theater institute and increase its support of new works.

Two theaters in one

The Cleveland-based architectural firm VOA, which oversaw the Milwaukee Auditorium renovation and designed the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, will design a space to include two black-box theaters housing about 100 and 300 seats apiece. The smaller of the two will be used for the theater’s cabaret series and new works, Schaeffer said.

Signature’s upcoming season will opens with the farce “What the Butler Saw” and will include “The Christmas Carol Rag,” a new adaptation of the Dickens classic by Norman Allen; Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies”; the musical “110 in the Shade”; and the premiere of “Donna Q,” by Paulette Laufer.

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