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25 Years and Counting

Left: Founder Gilbert Cates with Trustee Kristen Combs at the soon-to-be Geffen Playhouse (formerly Westwood Playhouse). Right: Geffen Playhouse is excited to celebrate 25 years by welcoming audiences back in 2021.

“Onward and upward with the arts.”

That was the mantra of Geffen Playhouse Founder and Producing Director Gilbert (Gil) Cates, a visionary and a showman who brought this theater to life a quarter of a century ago. And it remains our mantra today.

With the launch of our 2021/2022 season, we celebrate 25 years of storytelling, opening nights, world premieres, standing ovations, and all the artists and audiences who have passed through our doors since we first raised our curtain with Four Dogs and a Bone in 1995.

OCT 10, 1995 — John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, featuring Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Perkins, Parker Posey, and Martin Short opened the Geffen Playhouse.
Founder Gilbert Cates with philanthropist David Geffen and UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young

We did not just begin life as Geffen Playhouse—there’s more to our story. It was the early 1990s and, as a lover of the arts, then-Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Gil Cates had a dream and a vision. The goal was to create a new non-profit professional theater company that would enrich the cultural life of Greater Los Angeles and the UCLA community through plays and educational programs that inform, entertain and inspire.

UCLA had a long history of working closely with professional theaters as an extension of its academic mission and, for many years, owned and operated the Doolittle Theater in Hollywood to fulfill this mission. Cates recognized the Doolittle’s geographic distance from campus created a barrier to any meaningful relationship with UCLA and argued a better partner would be the Westwood Playhouse, located right across from campus. Compelled by the proximity and potential of the historic theater, Chancellor Charles Young agreed to sell the Doolittle and pledged the proceeds of the sale to assist Cates with the purchase and refurbishment of the Westwood Playhouse.

UCLA leased the theater to the newly named Geffen Playhouse (in recognition of an endowment gift from philanthropist David Geffen) to begin the creation of a permanent professional non-profit theater in Westwood. The university created an independent board, helmed by Cates, which would assume all costs and risks of operating the theater. And the rest is history.

Since opening, Geffen Playhouse has staged nearly 200 productions, held more than 9,000 performances, and entertained countless audiences from around the world and every walk of life. Each year has brought with it new stories, new artists, new laughter, new tears and new challenges—and we grow as a theater, and as a family, with every one of them.

It has been an honor to be a home for the arts in this remarkable city of Los Angeles, and we are excited for what the next 25 years will bring. We hope you will continue to join us on this journey, as we go onward and upward with the arts.