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James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director of Signature Theatre, Dies at 57

Houghton led the company for the first 25 years of its existence.

James Houghton has died at the age of 57.
(© David Gordon)

James Houghton, the longtime founding artistic director of off-Broadway's Signature Theatre, died today at the age of 57. The cause was stomach cancer.

Born in San Francisco, Houghton received a B.A. from Santa Clara University in 1981 and an M.F.A. in acting from Southern Methodist University in 1986. Beginning his career as an actor, he performed with several organizations including John Houseman's Acting Company.

In 1991, Houghton founded Signature Theatre, which has become one of the country's preeminent theaters. Signature was the first company to dedicate a full season to a living writer's body of work, and in the past 25 years has hosted a diverse roster of some of the playwrights including Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Romulus Linney, Lanford Wilson, Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornes, and many others.

At Signature, Houghton's accomplishments include the the Signature Ticket Initiative, which sells all tickets for the original run of a show at a subsidized $25 price, as well as the opening of a permanent home, The Pershing Square Signature Center. Under Houghton's leadership, the organization was presented a Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2014.

Houghton stepped down as Signature's Founding Artistic Director on July 1. In honor of his tenure, he received a 2015 Obie Award, as well as 2016 Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards.

Since 2006, Houghton has served as the Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division at Juilliard. Has also been a judge and nominator for prestigious awards including the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award, among others, as well as a presenter and speaker at many panels and symposiums.

Houghton is survived by his wife, Joyce O'Connor, and their children, Lily Houghton and Henry Houghton.