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New Geffen Gift Will Expand Playhouse

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Film and pop mogul David Geffen is giving a second $5-million gift to the Geffen Playhouse--the Westwood theater company named after him--as part of a capital campaign that aims to raise money to add a small second stage and expand the existing 498-seat Westwood theater.

Geffen’s first $5-million gift was announced in 1995 at the theater company’s birth.

The new donation will kick off a $15-million capital campaign, of which $13 million is allocated for construction and $2 million for an endowment, Geffen Playhouse producing director Gilbert Cates announced Monday.

If the remaining money is raised, the project would require a 15-month closure of the UCLA-owned Geffen, during which the theater company’s programming would move to a temporary venue.

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The target date for the beginning of the renovation is May 2004. Ron Frink of the Los Angeles-based firm Ron Frink Architects Inc. has been selected to complete the design.

Cates said the company hopes to rent another theater in Westwood--perhaps an empty building, a movie theater or a UCLA facility--to serve as the temporary home of the Geffen productions during the construction.

Speaking on behalf of Geffen, Geffen Foundation President Andy Spahn said: “He’s very proud of the critical success the playhouse has had. David thinks the playhouse is important in producing good theater, in its connection to a public university, and for educational reasons.” In a written statement, Geffen credited Cates’ “extraordinary artistic vision.” The second, smaller theater will be built in what is now a small parking lot on the east side of the existing facility, with a separate entrance leading from an existing alley. The theater will be on the second floor.

Cates said the new space won’t be a “black box,” but he described it in terms that suggest that style of theater architecture. It will be an “extremely malleable” rectangular space with permanent seats around two-thirds of the perimeter and additional movable seats that can be arranged in different configurations.

Although specific uses aren’t yet known, among the uses suggested by Cates are solo shows, cabaret, workshop productions and rehearsals. The Geffen main stage presents a variety of new plays and classics, sometimes with Hollywood talent in leading roles.

“I don’t know any serious theater that doesn’t have a second place,” Cates said.

Meanwhile, the existing theater will be renovated to better accommodate audience members and backstage workers who use wheelchairs. The floor will be replaced by one with a more modest rake, eliminating stairs between the lobby and the auditorium. The stage will be raised slightly, and the wings will be expanded.

Seating will be staggered for better sight lines, and the mezzanine will be extended for additional seating. Cates estimated the new capacity of the existing hall will be about 540. Elevators will lead to the mezzanine and to the new theater, and restrooms will be enlarged.

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Center Theatre Group officials are also raising funds for a new facility on the Westside--at Culver City’s Culver Theatre, which has been renamed the Kirk Douglas Theatre in honor of the actor’s gift of $2.5 million for the project, which is estimated to cost about $8 million.


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