Following up on last year’s citywide Women’s Voices Theater Festival of new works, Signature Theatre announced Wednesday that it will produce at least one premiere per season by a female playwright for the next five years. The project, called the Heidi Thomas Writer’s Initiative, is sponsored by the Jenna and Paul Segal Foundation.
The program is also plainly the fruit of Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer’s recent collaboration with producer Jenna Segal on the updated musical “Gigi,” with Vanessa Hudgens in the title role. That show, which appeared at the Kennedy Center last year before running just a couple months on Broadway, was driven by Segal, directed by Schaeffer and adapted by Heidi Thomas, the creator and executive producer of BBC’s “Call the Midwife.”
The total amount of the foundation’s gift is not yet being disclosed, and Segal is acting strictly as a donor, not a producer, says Signature managing director Maggie Boland. Grants won’t cover all production costs but will be “substantial,” according to the company. The initiative includes funds to encourage productions beyond the premieres by bringing in artistic directors to see the shows and meet the writers. The first show is expected to be part of Signature’s 2017-18 season.
The announcement comes just as Signature is premiering Audrey Cefaly’s “The Gulf”; last fall, Cefaly’s low-key, closely observed “Maytag Virgin” made a strong impression at Bethesda’s small Quotidian Theatre Company during the Women’s Voices fest.