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Michael Ritchie will retire from Center Theatre Group and 'make space' for a new voice

Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Hwang called Ritchie's support of the musical "maybe the bravest act of producing in the theater that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of in my career."

Critics of CTG and Ritchie wished that the kind of soup-to-nuts support of the creative process — from the commissioning of original work to its full realization onstage and beyond — was something the company did more often. Some said that the Ahmanson was little more than a Broadway pipeline, but Ritchie stands behind the programming, saying that risk-taking rarely made financial sense at the Ahmanson and was best reserved for the Taper and Kirk Douglas, which are better known for staging more experimental, cutting-edge work.

Ritchie commissioned Joseph to write "Archduke," which staged its world premiere at the Taper in 2017. The playwright said he finds it hard to believe that he would have a career without Ritchie and his company. Joseph's relationship with Ritchie goes back to 2010, when CTG was the only regional theater company willing to produce his play "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," which went on to critical success. It was a Pulitzer finalist and opened on Broadway in 2011 with Robin Williams in the title role.

"Michael took chances on people like me when he didn't need to, and those chances resulted in some pretty wonderful artistic works, and the development of theater that is exciting and poised to move forward in great ways," Joseph said.

For Ritchie, who spent the past year thinking about the best way forward for American theater while assiduously steering his company through the worst of the pandemic, the time to step aside felt especially right. Getting the company's theaters open again, Ritchie said, made him think, "Maybe that was my best last task."

CTG said it will have suffered an estimated loss of $45 million to $55 million in ticket revenue during the 20 months it will have remained closed. It expects to break even this year because of budget adjustments and staff cuts, and it has been slowly rebuilding with the help of individual donors and government pandemic assistance. Welcoming ticket-buying audience members back to the fold — when they are ready — will pave the way to recovery, but it will be some time before the company can return to the razor-thin margins that defined financial health even in the best of times.

CTG, however, is still here, and for that Ritchie is grateful and humbled. At its core, he said, theater has always, and will always, remain the same: a place where someone is telling a story, and someone is listening.

 

What is changing — and what needs to change — he said, is who is going to tell the stories and who is going to listen.

"We can't let this opportunity pass without thinking about why we do what we do, who we do it for, and who we do it with," he said.

Ritchie will be eagerly waiting to see the answers to those questions manifest on the company's stages in future seasons. He promises to be in the audience, soaking in all the exciting new art.

"To me, there is no greater moment than when the house lights go to half, and I don't know what's going to happen," he said, "and I can't wait."

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