2016 Archives

James Houghton, founder of Signature Theater Company, dies at 57

Received an M.F.A. in acting from SMU in 1986

Excerpt

The following is from the Aug. 3, 2016, edition of The New York Times. James Houghton was a 1986 graduate of SMU.

August 3, 2016

By BRUCE WEBER

James Houghton, the founder and, until recently, the artistic director of the Signature Theater Company, one of Off Broadway’s essential nonprofit theaters and perhaps the nation’s leading safe house for playwrights, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 57.

The cause was stomach cancer, his brother, Scott, said.

A former actor, Mr. Houghton (pronounced HOW-ton) was in his early 30s when he started Signature in 1991 with the idea of presenting annual season-long programs featuring the work of just one playwright. The initial season was devoted to Romulus Linney, a prolific and daring but largely unsung dramatist whose play “Heathen Valley” Mr. Houghton had appeared in a few years earlier.

In an 85-seat space, Mr. Houghton produced six plays by Mr. Linney, who died in 2011, for a total of $35,000.

Over the next quarter-century, playwrights as formidable and famous as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, August Wilson and John Guare, and others as formidable and not so famous as Lee Blessing, Adrienne Kennedy and María Irene Fornés, had the spectrum of their careers — often including new works — showcased in multiple productions. . . 

James fell in love with the theater at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a Jesuit school in San Francisco, and with friends he started a theater company, Overeasy Productions, when he was 18. He earned a B.F.A. at Santa Clara University and an M.F.A. from the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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