James Houghton, the founder of Off Broadway’s Signature Theater, died at his home in Manhattan Aug. 2 following a battle with stomach cancer. He was 57.
Houghton had a 25-year tenure at the Signature, which he founded with the idea of devoting a full season of programming to a single playwright’s work. As the company grew in prominence, Signature significantly expanded, launching hefty new residency programs and opening a multi-venue theater complex in midtown in 2012. In 2005 the theater launched a headturning ticket subsidy program that is still in effect today, with tickets for the initial engagements of all shows currently sold for $30 each.
Last year, following the diagnosis of his cancer, Houghton announced he would step down as Signature’s artistic director. LCT3 alumna Paige Evans stepped into the post this summer.
Over Houghton’s career, he also served as the artistic director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference from 2000-2003, and since 2006 he was the director of the drama division at Juilliard. Prior to founding Signature in 1991, Houghton was an actor with the Acting Company.
His work as an actor with the playwright Romulus Linney led to the idea behind Signature Theater, Houghton said in interviews. Other writers who have been the focus of Signature seasons include Edward Albee, Paula Vogel, Tony Kushner, Adrienne Kennedy, Sam Shepard and Arthur Miller.
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The 2016-17 season at Signature Theater will showcase several works by Suzan-Lori Parks as well as new works by Annie Baker, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins and Will Eno.