With $25 Million Gift, Signature Theater Has a New Name

By Larry Rohter (The New York Times) – The Signature Theater is only going to unveil and move into its new home on 42nd Street next week, but it has already received one unusually generous housewarming gift: on Thursday the Pershing Square Foundation announced that it is donating $25 million to Signature, much of it to be used in a 20-year initiative to keep ticket prices affordable.

“This is a game-changer for us, something hugely important to our long-term sustainability,” said James Houghton, Signature’s founding artistic director. “We’ve made this dynamic new center, the first theater arts complex of this size in decades, but this ticket initiative is critical in that it provides access for everyone.”

Signature’s first production in its new location will be Athol Fugard’s “Blood Knot,” which opens Jan. 31 and runs through March 11, with all tickets priced at $25. Mr. Houghton said that thanks to the Pershing Square donation, he has been able to pledge that all tickets for all productions for the next 10 years will remain at that same price, with a further promise that ticket prices will remain at “accessible” levels for at least an additional 10 years.

“I’ve never been interested in donating to cultural institutions where I’m subsidizing rich people,” said William A. Ackman, chief executive officer of Pershing Square Capital Management and co-founder of the foundation. “That doesn’t make much sense to me. Theater has not been my top priority, but what I love about this is that someone can go and have a great cultural experience for $25. There are very few such examples.”

Mr. Ackman, whose grandfather was an entertainer before going into the real estate business, said that the initial impulse for his donation came from the actor Edward Norton, who serves on the board of the High Line with Mr. Ackman’s wife, Karen, and performed at Signature very early in his career. After hearing Mr. Norton talk up the project, he visited Signature himself and was impressed by what he saw.

But he has yet to see an actual Signature production. “I don’t go enough,” he said of his theater-going habits. “Now I’m going to go.”

The theater’s new home will be called the Pershing Square Signature Center. It was designed by Frank Gehry and has three theaters and a variety of rehearsal spaces. In addition to “Blood Knot,” the inaugural season will include two other plays by Mr. Fugard as well as Edward Albee’s “The Lady from Dubuque” and works by Katori Hall, Kenneth Lonergan and Will Eno.

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