Arlington’s Signature Theatre announced today that Eric Schaeffer, the co-founder and only Artistic Director the company has ever had, will retire from that position and leave the company on June 30.
Schaeffer’s retirement comes on the heels of sexual assault charges by two actors, Thomas Keegan and Joe Carlson.
Keegan claimed that Schaeffer grabbed his genitals during a Helen Hayes Awards celebration. “During the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards show, which was cohosted by my wife, Eric Schaeffer…sexually assaulted me, grabbing or fondling my genitals through my pants [at least] three times over the course of a bewildering five minute exchange, including at least twice after I made it clear that I wanted him to stop,” Keegan said on a June 21 post to his Facebook page. Keegan claimed that he contacted Signature Theatre and the Washington Post, and that Signature sent a lawyer to interview him for two and a half hours but never told him about the results of its investigation.
On a June 23 post to his own Facebook page, Carlson stated that at the 2016 Summer Hummer (a fundraiser which theatreWashington used to stage), he was swatted on his genitals by Schaeffer, who was standing next to a “tall, well-built man”. He initially thought it was horseplay, he said, and responded in kind. Eventually, he said he told Schaeffer to cut it out, and blocked another attempt. “Then the artistic director of Signature [T]heatre grabbed my crotch and held on. He’s obviously drunk and acting like a creep and while uncomfortable I still feel in control. At this point his goon puts his arm around my shoulder with his forearm near my neck and when I attempt to get away while Eric Schaeffer is grabbing my genitals, his goon tightens his grip to where he is restraining me in a headlock. At this moment I loudly and forcibly say ‘get the fuck off me’ drawing the attention of audience members just feet away.”
Signature states that it investigated claims against Schaeffer in 2018 and found them not credible. “The Signature Board took the complaint seriously and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a third-party inquiry and Mr. Schaeffer was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the inquiry,” the company said on its press blog. “The third-party investigation was independent and involved numerous interviews with the complainant, Eric Schaeffer, current and former Signature staff along with attendees at the event where the incident allegedly took place…The investigation concluded that the allegations were not credible.” Signature’s statement now appears to have been removed.
Keegan, however, said that seven men had notified him that Schaeffer had sexually assaulted them in a similar way, and posted some of their accounts on his Facebook page after removing identifying information.
In announcing his retirement, Schaeffer made no mention of the allegations against him. “Three decades ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to create Signature Theatre with Donna Migliaccio. As I look back, I am proud of what we accomplished.,” his retirement statement asserted. “This little theater grew from Gunston Arts Center to the beloved Garage to our current home in Shirlington – a truly incredible journey, made possible by the most dedicated and passionate staff in any theatre in America.”
“I am proud of everything we accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to be this amazing company’s biggest cheerleader,” Schaeffer said.
Keegan had a somewhat different take on the matter. “Eric Schaeffer’s resignation is more than a decade overdue. As the #blacklivesmatter [movement] is proving, abuse of power is systemic, insidious, corrosive, and institutional. I believe that silence is complicity. The entire hierarchy of Signature Theatre, to include the board and people I once called friends and colleagues, has aided and abetted a sacrilegious abuse of power, criminal activity, and depraved behavior, in a theatre that good, hardworking artists call home. They have betrayed their patrons, their employees, and the artistic community. They should be removed and replaced by the next generation of theatremakers, honestly and transparently committed to creating safe spaces and pursuing our most pressing matter: racial justice and equity,” he posted on his Facebook page.
The Signature Board stated they will search for a new Artistic Director “ensuring that the pool of candidates reflects diversity in race, gender, ethnic background, and professional experience. This inclusive selection process will be an important part of Signature’s responsibility to increased diversity and anti-racism.”
Signature has not immediately announced an Acting Artistic Director to serve in Schaeffer’s place.
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