Founder of the Virginia Signature Theater Steps Down

One of the founders of a famous nonprofit theater in Virginia resigned his position on Wednesday after being accused on social media of sexual harassment.

Signature Theater, located in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, said its artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, had retired after three decades with the organization.

The theater offered no explanation for the leadership change, but it came just three days after an actor, Thomas Keegan, said on Twitter that Schaeffer had groped him at an award ceremony in 2018.

In a statement it has since deleted, the theater said it had investigated Keegan’s accusation at the time and considered it not credible; Keegan, a veteran Washington-area actor who appeared on the job at Signature, said he had been listening to other men with similar allegations, although he did not mention them.

He said on Twitter on Wednesday that he welcomed Schaeffer’s resignation, and called for the removal of the theater board, which he accused of complicity. A theater spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Schaeffer, in a statement issued by the theater, did not refer to the circumstances of his departure. “After thirty years, with the world upside down, I am retiring as a co-founder / art director,” he said.

“I hope that the next generation of leaders can withstand the many storms facing our profession,” he added. “To do this, you need to unite, dedicate yourself to work and avoid the toxic polarization that damages not only the institutions, but also the work itself, art.”

Founded in 1989 by Schaeffer and Donna Migliaccio, Signature initially organized his work in a high school auditorium. She then spent years in a former car garage before completing construction of a $ 16 million two-room facility in 2007.

Under Schaeffer’s leadership, the theater defended the musicals by Stephen Sondheim and John Kander and Fred Ebb, and was honored with the Tony Award for Regional Theater in 2009. Schaeffer oversaw an acclaimed series of Sondheim musical revivals at the Kennedy Center in 2001 -2002. And he directed five Broadway productions, including “Gigi,” a 2011 revival of “Follies” and “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Signature has also developed many new musicals; Just before the coronavirus pandemic closed stages across the country, the theater unveiled the first production of “Gun & Powder”, a promising new show on race and identity directed by Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”) with book and lyrics by Angelica Chéri and music by Ross Baum.

Schaeffer’s swift resignation in response to an accusation on social media comes at a time when many theater artists have publicly voiced allegations of misconduct in their workplace. Initially, most of the statements concerned racism, but efforts to seek accountability for sexual misconduct have also been renewed.

Keegan said he was urged to go public with his accusation by reading Signature’s “commitment to social justice” in response to the riots over racial injustice that followed the police murder of George Floyd, among others.