LOS ANGELES: Michael Ritchie has announced that he will retire as artistic director of Center Theatre Group on Dec. 31. Since taking over the position from founding artistic director Gordon Davidson in January 2005, Ritchie has produced and presented 266 productions, including 49 world premieres, 4 plays that were Pulitzer Prize finalists, and productions that led to a total of 59 Tony Award nominations. As leader of the sprawling nonprofit, he was responsible for programming the Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles at the Music Center and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
“It has been an honor working at Center Theatre Group over the past 16 years, and I’m extremely proud of what our organization has accomplished during that time,” said Ritchie in a statement. “Especially over the past 15 months, when we were forced to shut down due to COVID-19, our staff, board of directors, and entire community have rallied around the organization in a collective desire to continue our educational programming, deliver artistic work through the Digital Stage and bring groundbreaking theatre back to our stages in Los Angeles. This critical period also gave me time to contemplate my future as the leader of this extraordinary theatre company.
“After some reflection, I feel it best that I retire as artistic director of Center Theatre Group at the end of this year, following our celebratory reopening of the Ahmanson Theatre. I want to give the organization an opportunity to seek out a future vision and make space for new leadership to be successful. When our industry fully reopens, it will certainly be time for a rebirth as arts leaders dream up a new era of American theatre. Those responsible to carry out that new vision should be in position as soon as possible.
“With so much vital attention and focus being placed on the future of theatre leadership across our field, I recognize the need for new and diverse voices. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to run major regional theatres for the past 25 years and have always believed that our art form has the power to transform society. I’m absolutely certain that Center Theatre Group’s next artistic director will expand that vision in ways that will enrich Los Angeles and the American canon of theatre.”
Among the celebrated world premieres during his tenure were the musicals Soft Power, 13, and Sleeping Beauty Wakes, and the plays Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Water & Power, Yellow Face, and Marjorie Prime. Other notable productions included Black Rider, Clybourne Park, Red, a revival of Zoot Suit, and most recently What the Constitution Means to Me. Under Ritchie’s leadership, CTG also premiered such celebrated musicals as The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains, a reimagined production of Pippin with Deaf West Theatre, as well as Leap of Faith, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and 9 to 5: The Musical.
In addition, Ritchie inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s artistic development program, designed to foster new works and to nurture the field’s existing and next generation of theatre artists. Through this program, CTG formed many long-standing relationships with leading artists, including Matthew Bourne, Danai Gurira, Casey Nicholaw, Phylicia Rashad, Anna D. Shapiro, and Paula Vogel. More recently, Ritchie formed the CTG Creative Collective, which includes Luis Alfaro, Culture Clash, Elephant Room, Lars Jan, Daniel Alexander Jones, Miwa Matreyek, Dominique Morisseau, and Kristina Wong. Ritchie also launched the Edgerton Foundation Playwrights Initiative in 2017, establishing individual co-commissioning partnerships with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and New York’s Second Stage Theater, as well as London’s Royal Court Theatre and National Theatre to develop multiple works over the next decade from artists including Jon Robin Baitz, Will Eno, Young Jean Lee, Lynn Nottage, and Paula Vogel.
“I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working closely with Michael through many pivotal moments in Center Theatre Group’s rich history,” said Kiki Ramos Gindler, president of the board of directors since 2015. “Michael has been instrumental in keeping Center Theatre Group thriving for nearly two decades—from his stewardship of the Kirk Douglas Theatre, which he has led for nearly its entire existence—to the expansion of our education and community partnerships programming, and of course leading our sensational 50th anniversary celebration a few years ago. I have been moved by his devotion to Center Theatre Group’s artists and creating a home for them in Los Angeles as well as his focus on supporting the next generation of artists.”
Last year, Ritchie joined with leaders from across the organization and its board of directors in issuing a series of commitments to change as a direct response to calls for the theatre industry, including CTG, to hold itself accountable for long-standing systemic inequities, specifically for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) colleagues and artists. This ongoing work has included approving a dedicated budget for equity, diversity, and inclusion programming, establishing a staff-led accountability team and related working groups, undertaking staff and board workshops, as well as creating a standing board committee dedicated to equity, diversity, inclusion, access, and anti-racism.
“While my time working alongside Michael has been brief and marked by this unforeseen global pandemic, I’m so grateful for his partnership, especially over the past 15 months as we navigated such a difficult time,” said Meghan Pressman, managing director/CEO. “Center Theatre Group has a long and significant history as one of this country’s leading regional theatres. I look forward to working with Michael and our remarkable staff in bringing theatre back to Los Angeles audiences as we build the foundation for the city’s next visionary artistic leader.”
Center Theatre Group expects to launch an international search for its next artistic director later this summer. The organization is committed to ensuring this search process aligns with its core values and commitment to equity, diversity, access, and inclusion. An announcement on the search firm and timeline will be made shortly.
Ritchie began his professional career Off-Broadway and on Broadway, where beginning in 1979 he worked as a stage manager on more than 50 shows at such theatres as Lincoln Center Theater, Circle in the Square, Circle Rep, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, City Center, and the National Actors’ Theatre. In 1996, Ritchie became producer of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which he led to receiving the 2002 Regional Theatre Tony Award.
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