Remembering Jim Houghton
Wednesday, August 03, 2016 12:00 AM

Credit: Gregory Costanzo


From A.R.T./New York Executive Director, Ginny Louloudes:

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Jim Houghton, the Founding Artistic Director of the Signature Theatre, is “kind.” The second is “visionary,” and the third is “Edward Albee” because his Albee season assured that attention would be paid to this brilliant, if not always understood, playwright.




In 1991, the Signature invited the staff of A.R.T./New York to what may have been the second production of the Romulus Linney season. It was right before Christmas. I was about to get married and several staff members were preparing to travel home for the holidays. I asked our new intern, Jeff Goldman, to represent us at the show.

The next day Jeff came in raving about the Signature. He loved the production, but what I most remember is how appreciated he felt by Jim. “I can’t believe he was so nice to an intern!”

That was Jim. He was kind to everyone; it was one of his qualities I most admired. At Signature gatherings Jim would thank his colleagues, his friends, his consultants, his actors, designers, directors, and playwrights--especially his playwrights--for coming to the Signature, for giving of their time or their talent. Then he would give an equally passionate thank you to his donors and his Board for their incredible support. Jim’s kindness brought out the best in all who knew him and it was instrumental in his personal and professional success.

I cannot write about Jim without mentioning the loves of his life, his wife Joyce, his daughter Lily, and his son Henry. When he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Obie, he thanked Joyce for her loving support. More recently, on the CaringBridge blog site, he wrote about the ways Joyce took care of him. Joyce wrote about finding simple pleasures, be it a massage or watching the sun set while listening to their nephew play his keyboard for Jim. Last week she wrote that Jim had sent her flowers to say thank you.

Love is love is love is love.


In 1991, it was pretty bold and visionary to produce the work of one playwright for a season. On the Signature’s website it says that Jim’s experience with Mr. Linney in the rehearsal process convinced him that living playwrights should be more involved in the production of their plays than was common in the American theatre. Following the Romulus Linney season at Signature, Mr. Linney won an Obie for Sustained Achievement in Playwriting; other awards, prizes, and publications would follow.

The Signature’s mission was visionary. And so was Jim’s vision of what the Signature Theatre could be, not only for playwrights, but for all artists, members of the theatre community, and audience members. From their humble beginnings on Bond Street, the company moved to a permanent home at West 42nd Street and 11th Avenue (the current home of The Pearl Theatre Company) where they re-introduced audiences to the works of many living playwrights: Adrienne Kennedy, Horton Foote, John Guare, Maria Irene Fornés, Bill Irwin, Paula Vogel, Athol Fugard, and Arthur Miller to name just a few. Several years ago, the Signature initiated the $25 Signature Ticket Initiative, which has succeeded in growing and diversifying its audience.

While he continued to work with some of the finest playwrights of the 20th Century, Jim also began to develop a vision for the 21st Century: a Signature Theatre Center where several playwrights could be in residence at the same time and discuss their work over drinks at a café. In January 2012, The Pershing Square Signature Center opened on West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue with three theatres of different sizes and configurations, rehearsal studios, a bookstore, and a café which has become a sort of Starbucks for artists.

Edward Albee

In 1993, Jim convinced Edward Albee to be the company’s playwright-in-residence for their third season. Albee hadn’t been produced in New York City for many years, and was flattered by Jim’s request. The Edward Albee season, which featured Marriage Play, Counting the Ways, Listening, The Sandbox, Finding the Sun, and Fragments, brought much more attention to this small but bold company. That same season the Vineyard Theatre produced Albee’s newest piece, Three Tall Women, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Albee was suddenly the talk of the town.

I remember when we invited Jim to come and speak to our Board about the Albee season and how kind he was when a few Board Members asked if he could join us for a drink, which he did. It wasn’t long after that he was asked to join the A.R.T./New York Board. During his tenure, he was all that one could hope a Board Member to be: wise, caring, generous, and thoughtful.

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Houghton started the Signature as many of our members do: with a tiny budget, no permanent home, and no office. Through his kindness, a clear vision, and his unwavering support of the playwright, he transformed the notion of what a theatre company could do. Jim introduced us to many playwrights and produced dozens of their plays. In doing so, he not only enriched our community, but the American theatre as well. And in these same 25 years, he remained a devoted husband and father.

All of us at A.R.T./New York extend our deepest condolences to Joyce, Lily, and Henry. In honor of Jim, I respectfully ask that all A.R.T./New York members who are producing a play on Thursday, August 4th dim their lights in his honor.


In lieu of flowers, James Houghton's family asks that donations be made to AfterWork Theater and Daniel’s Music, two organizations that helped his son Henry’s life.

Details of a public memorial will be made available in the coming weeks. Go to Signature Theatre's website for more information.