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Steppenwolf’s Arney to Take Leadership Role at the Geffen

TIMES THEATER WRITER

Randall Arney, artistic director of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre from 1987 to 1995, has been named to the same position at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

But Gilbert Cates, the producing director of the theater who has made the artistic decisions since the theater began five years ago, isn’t leaving.

Cates said he invited Arney into the theater’s leadership because he wants to spend more time on his own directing projects, including a film this summer as well as plays at the Geffen.

“I see myself as reinforcing the artistic vision,” Arney said. And if he and Cates disagree? “We’ll just have to stay in the room until we agree.” But the bottom line is that Cates will have the final word, Arney said.

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Concurred Cates: “Ultimately, someone’s got to pull the trigger. I guess it’s me.”

At age 65, Cates said he has no intention of leaving the theater for at least five years. Looking ahead, however, “I hope I leave it in great shape.” Arney is now the likely heir apparent.

Arney, 43, sees no problem in sharing the decision-making, saying he has always “prized collaboration.” In Steppenwolf’s early years, the 30-member ensemble “used to vote on everything from play choices to the color of next year’s brochure. A good deal of my job was the care and feeding of that ensemble. They felt very enfranchised.”

No such ensemble exists at the Geffen, and Arney said he does not want to create one there. “The talent pool here is so diverse that casting as wide a net as possible is exciting to me,” he said.

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Arney is no stranger to the Geffen, where he staged “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” in 1994, shortly before the name of the theater changed from the Westwood to the Geffen. That production ran for 10 months. Cates was creating the Geffen company at the time, and “I was able to talk to him about artistic formation,” Arney said.

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At about 500 seats, the Geffen’s capacity is almost identical to that of Steppenwolf’s main theater. But Steppenwolf also uses a smaller, black-box theater.

Arney moved to Los Angeles in 1997, looking for TV and film work, as have many Steppenwolf actors before him. He appeared in a couple of cable movies, and he’s not ruling out taking a role on the Geffen stage, “but I’m certainly not ruling it in in the near future.”

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