New Center Theatre Group Head Michael Ritchie Cuts Minority New Play Programs

News   New Center Theatre Group Head Michael Ritchie Cuts Minority New Play Programs
The new Center Theatre Group artistic director Michael Ritchie has cut the California company's minority-based theatre initiatives created by his predecessor, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Former Williamstown Theatre Festival head Ritchie took over CTG duties in January. His hopes are to fill the gap left from these developmental programs with collaborations with small theaters.

The move, which goes into effect July 1, will do away with the three ethnic-based programs — Latino Theatre Initiative, BlackSmyths and Asian American Theatre Workshop — and The Other Voices Project (which is "dedicated to the empowerment of writers and performers with disabilities in the American theatre," according to the company's website). All those new play programs were created by founding artistic director, Gordon Davidson, who left the company earlier this year.

Ritchie also plans to cut readings and workshops conducted under the direction of playwright Luis Alfaro — who serves as Director of New Play Development, a job that will be eliminated, as will the other lab directors. "I've never liked having a play read to me," Ritchie said, telling the publication about not having attended a reading in several years. Ritchie, during his tenure at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, was notorious for not attending play readings sponsored by the company.

"Development is where you meet emerging artists. A festival is not about readings. It's about relationships and building a community of artists," the Times quoted Alfaro, who has overseen the Taper New Work Festival. "Great art rises collectively, not because one person writes the play that every regional theater produces."

Alfaro's collaborator on the Latino Theatre Initiative, Diane Rodriguez, will remain at the regional theatre complex under a new, more permanent position as associate producer in charge of new play production. "I want to see a shorter list of plays in production," Ritchie explained about the change, "as opposed to a long list that gets mired in development." He further added, "If plays that are in development hell are valid, they'll find a home. With too much development, they wither and die."

Reactions to the move have been varied, ranging from playwright Jessica Goldberg, who is quoted as being "heartbroken," saying the artistic community at CTG's Taper "has been essential to the development of my last three plays," to outgoing Blacksmyths director Brian Freeman, comparing the collaborations with smaller companies to "outsourcing. That's not new play development. It's bringing in a product. It's apples and oranges."

Director Juliette Carrillo, who headed up the also-defunct Hispanic Playwrights Project at South Coast Repertory, expressed her concern for emerging playwrights. "It's a very difficult and lonely task, and professional and financial success is a rarity. They need nurturing. The fact that these labs were focused on ethnic groups that are already suffering from underexposure makes it even worse."

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