Signature in the Schools to premiere ‘Voices on Blackwell Island’

Set in the notorious women’s asylum, the play is written Dani Stoller and directed by David Zobell and features guest artist Holly Twyford with a cast and crew of students.

Signature Theatre announces performances of The Voices on Blackwell Island, the world-premiere production of the company’s flagship education program, Signature in the Schools, Tuesday, January 31, 2023, at 7:30 PM and Friday, February 3 at 8 PM. Tickets are $10 and are now available for sale at or by calling the Box Office at 703 820 9771.

Dani Stoller, David Zobell, and Holly Twyford

Written by DC-area playwright Dani Stoller (Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy, and The Tired) and directed by Signature’s Education Director David Zobell (Signature in the Schools’ The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy, and The Tired, Here’s The Deal), The Voices on Blackwell Island features a cast and crew of 28 students from 5 Arlington County Public Schools who work alongside a professional actor, Holly Twyford (Signature’s A Little Night Music, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Our Town), and Signature’s professional designers and backstage crew to mount the production in Signature’s MAX Theatre.

In 1888, a daring female journalist goes undercover and a falsely committed inmate rebels in this riveting original play. Inspired by Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Packard and featuring a cast and crew of area high school students with award-winning actor Holly Twyford, the most ambitious Signature in the Schools production to date descends deep into the horrors of Blackwell Island, the notorious women’s asylum.

“This year’s Signature in the Schools production features the largest student company in the program’s history,” said Director of Education David Zobell. “Dani Stoller has written another incredible play, this time exploring the institutional abuse of women. The students, as always, are knocking it out of the park with their work on this one, rising to the occasion as we delve into ambitious movement in the piece. And it is a dream come true to have someone of Holly Twyford’s caliber involved in this year’s production.”

In addition to the two public performances, there are also 5 student matinee performances on January 27 and January 31 through February 3, with free tickets given to schools across the DMV, and transportation for students participating from Arlington County Public Schools provided free by Signature. Schools are also given access to a curated website with further educational resources and lesson plans that comply with the Virginia Standards of Learning for English, Social Studies, and Theater, as well as workshops taught by Signature Theatre teaching artists prior to attending the show — all of these materials are provided free of charge. The goal of the online resources and workshops is to enable the students to better understand the subject matter as well as to voice their own thoughts, experiences, and feelings related to the production. There is a small number of tickets remaining for the free student matinees; for reservations email [email protected]. For Signature in the Schools educational resources, visit

In addition to playwright Dani Stoller, director David Zobell, and guest artist Holly Twyford, The Voices of Blackwell Island professional artist team includes Scenic Design by Lee Savage (Signature’s Into the Woods, She Loves Me) Costume Design by Alison Samantha Johnson (Signature’s Escaped Alone, Keegan Theatre’s Legally Blonde), Lighting Design by Tyrell Stanley (Signature’s The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy, and The Tired, ArtsCentric’s Dreamgirls), Sound Design by Kenny Neal (Signature’s Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, Olney Theatre’s Dance Nation), Properties Design by Rooster Sultan (Signature’s The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy, and The Tired, Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s Men on Boats), Fight Choreography by Mallory Shear (Arena Stage, Olney Theatre), Assistant Direction and Dramaturgy by Matthew Taylor Strote (Washington Improv Theatre’s (y)Our Town, ArtStream’s Crimes of Fashion) and Historian and Dramaturg Joan Cummins (Historian at President Lincoln’s Cottage and American University). Additional production crew from Signature’s professional staff are Kerry Epstein (Stage Management Mentor) and Jonathan Maag (Assistant Production Manager). Professional teaching artists are Osama Ashour, Matthew Crawford, Anabel Milton, Lillian Moki, Julia Rudgers, and Mallory Shear.

Now in its 28th year, 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 artists, and the creation of an original play. The program includes pre-show visits to school classrooms, resources for students, and curriculum guides for teachers. Signature in the Schools is offered to all participants free of charge. Students from throughout Northern Virginia also attend daytime performances for free to see their peers perform.

The program centers on an original play written by a professional playwright and performed by Arlington County high school students with one professional actor. The play is specially tailored to the personalities and abilities of the student performers and focuses on themes from Arlington Public Schools social studies curriculum and its connection to the present. The Voices on Blackwell Island promises to continue Signature in the Schools’ tradition of bringing difficult subjects alive by connecting them to history, politics, and literature. Past topics have included the Great Depression, civic engagement, freedom of expression, immigration, propaganda, and women’s rights.

Students in the 2023 Signature in the Schools production are from Yorktown High School, Washington-Liberty High School, Wakefield High School, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, the Arlington Career Center, Arlington Tech, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, South County High School, and George Washington Middle School. Prior to rehearsals, students engage in a three-week “boot camp” where they take a deep dive into table work, acting lessons, and subject dramaturgy.

Signature Theatre is a Tony Award®-winning regional theater that broadens and brightens the region’s cultural landscape with its bold productions of challenging new and established works and engaging education and outreach programs. Founded in 1989 by Eric Schaeffer and Donna Migliaccio, and currently under the leadership of Managing Director Maggie Boland and Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner, musical theater is Signature’s “signature,” and the Theatre is renowned for its definitive Sondheim productions, inventive adaptations of overlooked or forgotten works, and investment in fresh new projects. Signature combines Broadway-caliber productions with intimate playing spaces and aims to be a leading force in U.S. musical theater.

Since its inception, the Theatre has produced 60 world premiere works—including 19 new musical commissions. Signature opens its doors to more than 100,000 people annually from the Washington, DC region and beyond and reaches more than 10,000 students every year through its innovative education programs, including the award-winning initiative Signature in the Schools. Signature has won 134 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the Washington, DC region’s professional theater and has been honored with 452 nominations.


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