Signature gets gov’t assistance

New facility being constructed for January 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — From its 120-seat space wedged into a former auto repair shop here, the 15-year-old Signature Theater has built a national reputation for its innovative productions, especially musicals. But in January 2006, Signature swaps its cramped confines for a new facility as part of an innovative partnership with Arlington County government.

Construction has begun on a four-story building in nearby Shirlington Village that will house a brand new Signature. Included will be two versatile black box theaters — a 299-seat main stage and a 99-seat second stage — as well as other necessary spaces. The building also will feature a branch of the Arlington Library with a performing arts focus.

The project was unveiled at a reception and press conference here last week. Artistic director Eric Schaeffer promised to “hold onto the garage spirit,” but said he won’t miss the comical hardships of mounting productions under 15-foot ceilings, rehearsing in the lobby, building sets off-site and numerous other restrictions.

Among other improvements will be the ability to perform weekday matinees, currently impossible because of noise from the auto body shop next door.

The $12.5 million project will be bankrolled by $5.5 million from the county government with the remainder from Signature; $3 million of that has been raised. In return for the public funding, Signature will give the county 10% of box office revenues for the next 30 years, as well as expanding its educational programs for area students.

The project team includes interior architect VOA Associates, Charles Cosler Theater Design and acoustical designer the Talaske Group.

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