Arizona Theatre Company's David Ira Goldstein is leaving the organization in December, halfway through his 22nd season as artistic director.

Goldstein cited the regular commutes between Tucson, where ATC is headquartered, and Phoenix, where he has a home, as a big reason for his decision. ATC stages performances in both cities, and Goldstein oversees the artistic end, including planning seasons, directing, hiring actors and leading productions.

"I had to be apart from my family so much," Goldstein said. "And I've driven the equivalent of 17 times around the world between here and Phoenix."

The board of trustees has not yet begun a search for Goldstein's replacement, but it will likely be a national search, board Chairman Robert Glaser said.

"The good thing is that David is here until Dec. 7 so it gives us plenty of time to determine a successor," he said.

"David has been a part of the theater infrastructure for a long time, and the theater has performed at an extraordinarily high level," Glaser added. "Twenty-two years is a long time (as artistic director). I think it is an exciting time, but I do think it's a big loss. It's a really significant change."

David Hawkanson, the executive director of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, applauded Goldstein for making the bi-city mission look easy. Hawkanson was ATC's managing director from 1976 to 1985 and helped make the transition to a two-city company.

"It's really a tough job (for an artistic director)," Hawkanson said. "You have to do programming for two distinct cities and put together shows that'll work in both markets. It's particularly complicated. That David has made it work for that period of time is just incredible. He's made that work and still given the theater an excellent reputation. ATC is a very much admired professional theater company."

Goldstein's decision isn't a sudden one.

"For the last 2 1/2 to three years, I've been talking to colleagues about leaving. I've just turned 60 and I'm anxious to pursue other projects," he said.

Goldstein is interested in teaching, and he plans to pursue more freelance directing jobs; he has regularly been a guest director at theaters around the country.

In accepting his resignation, the board has awarded Goldstein, just the fourth artistic director in ATC's 46-year history, the title of artistic director emeritus.

Under Goldstein's guidance, the company has grown in subscriptions and audiences.

"To be here as many years as he has and have the success he's had is just amazing," said Darryl Dobras, who has had season tickets to ATC for about 30 years, served on the board of trustees for six years, including a stint as chairman of the board, and oversaw the company's capital campaign after he left the board.

"He's done an incredible job for ATC; he's been a very special person for the theater. His leaving will be a great loss to the state."

Jessica Andrews, former executive director of ATC, worked with Goldstein for more than 16 years.

She noted his strength as a director (he directed more than 40 plays on the ATC stage), his role as an arts leader within ATC and the community, and his ability to work within a budget.

"He is one of the most fiscally responsible artistic directors I know," she said. "He knows where every penny of his budget is; he can tell you about the ticket sales of almost any show. That's a job management pays attention to, but David does it, too. That's a whole new side to an artistic director."

According to a Cultural Data Project report, ATC's attendance of about 110,500 for a season is well above the average for comparable performing arts companies around the country, which is around 61,700. Those ticket sales point to productions that audiences want to see.

Around 2008 when the recession hit, Goldstein needed to make adjustments in the seasons. But rather than scale back on quality, he reached out to other theaters and started doing co-productions. This allowed ATC to stage larger and more expensive productions because theaters were sharing the cost. This season, there were four co-productions, and another four are planned for the 2013-14 season.

Those co-productions helped enhance ATC's national reputation, Andrews said.

"He put ATC on the map artistically, and a lot of that was through co-productions," she says.

Goldstein directed some of ATC's more powerful shows, such as this season's "Next to Normal," "The Kite Runner" in 2009, and a rousing staging of "Hair" in 2008.

During his tenure, ATC has mounted 21 world premieres. Fifteen of those were commissioned works, most of which have gone on to successful productions at other regional theaters.

"He has a commitment to new works," Andrews said. "He's helped contribute to a whole body of work that's out there, and that's a credit to David."

Over the years, there have been some artistic and box office disappointments, too. This season's "Freud's Last Session," directed by Stephen Wrentmore, didn't live up to the hype the play had in New York. The 2011 musical "Daddy Long Legs," directed by Tony winner John Caird, didn't sell well in spite of good reviews. And the dismal 1994 production of the classic play "The Seagull," directed by actress Olympia Dukakis, still brings shudders.

Still, the majority of play reviews since Goldstein joined the company in 1992 have been positive. "I am proud of the work we've done," he said.

He does have some regrets, though.

"The biggest regret was I was never able to attract an audience that is as diverse as the community we live in," he said.

He launched the National Latino Playwriting and the Arizona Playwriting awards competition, but audiences lacked the ethnic and age diversity that so many arts organizations long for.

"I look back in that area and I think I could have done better," he said.

Goldstein said Phoenix will remain his home base, though he hopes to spend more time in the Oregon summer home that he and his wife, Michele Robins, own.

"I've been there 10 days in the last two years," he says. "The demands of the job kept me away."

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.