The artistic director of the Center Theatre Group announced Thursday he is retiring at the end of December, after more than 16 years at the helm of one of the country’s largest nonprofit regional theaters.
Since taking over from Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson in January 2005, Michael Ritchie has produced and presented 266 productions — which included 49 world premieres and four Pulitzer Prize finalists yielding 59 Tony Award nominations — while 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,” Ritchie said in a statement released by CTG. “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 theater back to our stages in Los Angeles.”
He said the pandemic period gave him to time to contemplate the future.
“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,” Ritchie said. “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 theater. Those responsible to carry out that new vision should be in position as soon as possible.”
Ritchie, 63, who is married to actress Kate Burton, added that he recognizes “the need for new and diverse voices.”
“I’ve had the incredible opportunity to run major regional theaters 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 theater.”
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 theater industry, including Center Theatre Group, to hold itself accountable for long-standing systemic inequities, specifically for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) colleagues and artists.
CTG has since approved a dedicated budget for equity, diversity and inclusion programming; established a staff-led accountability team and related working groups; held staff and board workshops; and created 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 expects to launch an international search for Ritchie’s replacement later this summer and pledged to ensure the search process “aligns with its core values and commitment to equity, diversity, access and inclusion.”
The Ahmanson Theatre will resume in-person productions on Nov. 30. Ritchie’s final Ahmanson season will open with Jack Thorne and Matthew Warchus’ “A Christmas Carol” and includes “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” “The Lehman Trilogy,” “The Prom,” “Hadestown,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” and “Come From Away.”
He is working with the artistic team to complete programming for his final seasons at the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre, which will be announced in the coming months.