Geffen Playhouse main stage named for founder Gil Cates


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The Geffen Playhouse’s Main Stage morphed into the Gil Cates Theater on Monday evening when actress Rita Wilson and board Chairman Frank Mancuso interrupted a benefit performance of “Backstage at the Geffen” for an important announcement: The board had voted unanimously to christen the Westwood theater’s larger venue in honor of its founder and producing director — taking Cates totally by surprise.

“I thought it was a little bit of a mutiny,” he said later, standing in front of the new sign bearing his name, which had been hidden by a banner during the show. “I said to Frank, ‘You should get back to your seat [after an earlier speech].’ He said, ‘No, I’m going back on. I forgot to say something.’ Then a minute before he went on, I said, ‘Frank, you’re not going to embarrass me, are you?’


“It kind of embarrassed me. I love the name, I love everything, but it’s so public. But it was really thrilling.”

Cates founded the Geffen in 1994, calling on high-profile entertainment industry contacts he’d cultivated as then-dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the Academy Awards broadcast for 14 years.

As Cates shook his finger at Mancuso in mock anger, Wilson, who appeared in the Geffen production of “Dinner With Friends,” announced the new name.

“From now on, this stage will bear the name of the man who made it great,” she said. “Too often our friends are recognized on the heels of their retirement, but we wanted to show our appreciation for Gil so that he will be able to walk through the lobby and enjoy this honor for years to come.”

And stress about it too.

“I feel a lot of pressure now because I’m directing the next play that goes in here [‘Nightmare Alley’],” Cates said. “So the theater with that name, it’s a little worrisome.”

Wilson told the crowd why Cates has attracted so much support from marquee names. “I know I’ve wanted to work here specifically to work with Gil,” she said. “Gil is the reason top playwrights, actors, designers and directors gravitate to this theater and want to come back again and again. Gil’s love of the theater and of the Geffen Playhouse … is contagious.”

Also honored at the annual gala were Barry Meyer, president and CEO of Warner Bros., who received the Distinction in Service Award from Clint Eastwood, and Kristin Chenoweth, who accepted the Distinction in Theater Award from Matthew Morrison.

This year’s stars of the annual “Backstage at the Geffen” fundraiser, which features singing and reminiscences of life in the show business, included Alan Cummings, Dick Van Dyke, Christina Applegate, Hank Azaria, Beau Bridges and French Stewart.

-- Irene Lacher

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Updated photo: Gil Cates outside the newly named theater at Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Geffen Playhouse.