Signature in the Schools, Signature Theatre’s flagship education program, is a multifaceted program that encompasses workshops for English, Social Studies and Theatre classes, theatrical training for young performers and technicians, and the creation of an original play. The play is directed, designed and written by professional Signature artists and features a cast and crew of Arlington high school students and an Equity-actor.
About Signature in the Schools.
The centerpiece of the Signature in the Schools program is the production of an original play. Students from Wakefield High School and members of the Apprentice at Signature program audition early in the year. Acclaimed artist Joe Calarco then takes the historical subject and the personalities of the students who are cast into consideration and writes an original play that weaves history into everyday life. The students rehearse in the winter, and the production runs for seven performances, five of them to students bused in from schools throughout Arlington County and the DC Metro area. Each student who attends the production receives an in-depth resource guide, researched and written by members of Signature’s Education Department. Many also receive classroom visits from Signature staff which help students explore the historical topics highlighted in the production and encourage them to personally connect with the material of the play. The freshman class at Wakefield receives additional in-class workshops; past subjects have included media literacy, the basics of theatrical staging, and marketing tactics.
Students not only make up the cast of the production, but also work as crew members, stage managers, and occasionally even as co-designers. All students, whether onstage or off, are mentored by professionals and are expected to work at professional standards. The students are expected to be more than just promising artists. Since each production is a world premiere, the team is also expected to share and develop their thoughts on the historical period, to ask evocative questions, and to have a hand in the development of the play.
A professional actor always joins the student casts onstage as a colleague and mentor. Past actors that have participated in the program include Paul Morella, Vanessa Lock, and Harry Winter.
“Signature in the Schools is one of the most fantastic theatre programs I have ever had the honor of working with,” said Morgan Shotwell, an H.B. Woodlawn student. “I have learned more about acting in three months with Signature in the Schools than in the last three years of classes at school. And my education hasn’t just been in theatre. Signature in the Schools demands personal responsibility and a willingness to commit that most high school programs won’t ask for. We are taught that we always have to put our fair share in so our peers can do their best work. Signature has given me good friends and mentors, and a higher confidence in my abilities as an actor.”
Signature in the Schools was founded in 1995. The program began with the proposition that plays about high-school students should feature actual high-school students in their casts. Using the strong ties already forged between Signature and Wakefield High School and drawing on the inspiration of Judy Klevins, then the drama instructor at Wakefield, the first Signature in the Schools production was presented on the Signature stage for just two performances, to an audience of friends and family. Today the Signature in the Schools productions run for seven performances, to an audience of high school students from around the DC metro area.
In 2004, the late Marcia Gardner, who had been a driving force in the program since its second year and would go on to direct the productions for several years, added a series of workshops for Wakefield freshmen, exploring issues exploring issues of plot, character, dialogue and theatrical staging. The partnership with Wakefield and its current drama instructor, Chris Gillespie, has ensured the program’s lasting success. In recent years, workshops have also included principles of media literacy, theatrical design, and the historical subjects dealt with in the plays. Since 2011, students from The Apprentice at Signature program, part of the Arlington Public Schools Fine Arts Apprentice Program, have also been invited to participate in the Signature in the Schools production.
Signature is the Schools is made possible by generous donations from the community. To support this educational program by making a gift, please contact Signature’s Development office at 571 527 1828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signature in the Schools is sponsored by
Additional support is provided by Mike Blank, The Geary-O’Hara Foundation, Laura Ariane (Laurie) Miller and Lois C. Greisman, the David S. Shrager Foundation, the Venable Foundation, Dominion and Wells Fargo.