ARLINGTON, VA.: The Signature Theatre has named Matthew Gardiner to be its new artistic director, after a nationwide search and a unanimous vote from the theatre’s search committee. He replaces longtime artistic director Eric Schaeffer, whose 30-year tenure ended in June 2020 after he was accused of sexual assault.
“On behalf of the board of directors, we are so excited that Matthew Gardiner will be leading Signature Theatre as the next artistic director,” said board chair Dottie Bennett in a statement. “Matthew is an extraordinary artist and advocate for inclusiveness, and has a strong vision for Signature’s future and for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. We are excited to see the innovation, artistry, and excellence he will bring to Signature both on stage and off.”
“I’m humbled and thrilled that the search committee and Signature’s board have entrusted me with this position,” said Gardiner in a statement. “Signature is a theatre that I’m immensely proud of, in a town that has been my artistic home for many years. I see clearly the challenges we face in this moment, but mostly I see the exciting possibilities that lie before us. I’m committed to ensuring the art and the artists in this community flourish and to building a future that is brighter for all of us.”
The Washington Post named Gardiner “among the top young musical-theatre directors in the land.” Working as Signature’s associate artistic director for over a decade, he directed and/or choreographed more than 25 productions, including revivals of A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Jelly’s Last Jam, and The Threepenny Opera, as well as several world premieres including Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Really Really, Nick Blaemire’s Soon, and Josh Schmidt and Royce Vavrek’s Midwestern Gothic. Besides directing work for Signature, Gardiner oversaw several of the theatre’s new-work development initiatives including the American Musical Voices Project, SigWorks: Monday Night Play Reading Series and the Signature/Yale Composer Partnership, which seeks to give opportunity to early career composers. Beyond Signature, Gardiner directed and choreographed throughout theatres in the Washington, D.C., area and worked abroad for OD Musical Company in Seoul, Korea. Gardiner is the recipient of three Helen Hayes Awards for outstanding director of a musical and has been honored with more than a dozen nominations.
As artistic director, Gardiner joins managing director Maggie Boland in a joint leadership model. The theatre has opened an immediate national search for the positions of associate artistic director and a director of artistic development. As of now, Signature has filled three new artistic positions. Jorge Acevedo has been promoted from casting and executive coordinator to the position of casting director/manager of artistic programs; Chelsea Pace, co-founder of Theatrical Intimacy Education and author of Staging Sex, will join Signature for the 2021-22 season as resident intimacy consultant; and musician and music director Mark G. Meadows (After Midnight, Jelly’s Last Jam) will be director of Signature cabarets.
Gardiner and Boland say they will continue to lead Signature in its “ongoing journey to become an anti-oppressive and anti-racist company,” a process the theatre has been undertaking with the help of Wayfinding Partners for more than a year. Signature is currently in the middle of finalizing a racial equity action plan for future work.
“I fell in love with Signature because of its dedication to the American musical,” Gardiner continued in a statement. “I’m honored to carry that forward, including making an even more robust commitment to the development of new work. One of my highest priorities is creating a supportive home for emerging composers and playwrights, especially those whose voices have been historically underrepresented on the American stage.” Gardiner plans to commission and develop more new musicals and plays with a focus on work by people with disabilities, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women.
Along with the announcement of Gardiner’s hiring, the theatre also announced its 2021-22 season, which begins in November and includes new productions of Rent, Daphne’s Dive, and The Color Purple, as well as world premieres of The Upstairs Department by Chelsea Marcantel and the new musical We Won’t Sleep by Lauren M. Gunderson and Ari Afsar.
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