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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Morgan Freeman And Jeff Skoll Honored At Geffen Playhouse Annual Fundraiser

Morgan Freeman And Jeff Skoll Honored At Geffen Playhouse Annual Fundraiser

Star-Studded, Sell-Out BACKSTAGE AT THE GEFFEN Raises More Than $1.4 Million Benefiting Arts and Education Programs and New Play Development

LOS ANGELES, May 24, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Sunday's (May 22) Backstage at the Geffen, star-studded fundraiser at the Geffen Playhouse and the pre-show host committee dinner grossed over $1.4 million for the Geffen Playhouse's education, outreach and artistic initiatives. Norman Lear presented the Distinction in Service Award to social entrepreneur Jeff Skoll. Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn presented the Distinction in Theater Award to Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

Actress Dana Delany, a Geffen Playhouse alum, served as Master of Ceremonies for the by-invitation-only fundraiser that gathers superstars from the worlds of stage and screen to share often irreverent, behind-the-curtain stories of the struggles and surprises that memorably shaped their lives and careers. This year's 14(th) annual fundraiser featured "backstage" memories by Rainn Wilson, Aaron Sorkin, Garry Marshall, Kristin Davis, Amy Landecker and Jaeden Lieberher with musical performances by Ellis Hall, Frenchie Davis and Jon Boogz & Lil' Buck.

"The lovely thing about theater, film and television," said Delany in welcoming the more than 500 guests, "is that they attract people crazy enough to build lives around them, and if you spent your life in this community, you've seen enough drama on and off stage to think, 'If these walls could talk,' but tonight they don't have to...our storytellers will do that for them."

David Geffen served as Honorary Chair of the 20(th) Anniversary event. Martha Henderson and Pamela Robinson Co-Chair the Geffen Playhouse Board of Directors. The evening was beautifully produced by Gil Cates, Jr. and Kevin S. Bright and directed by Randall Arney.

Funds raised are earmarked for a host of Geffen Playhouse endeavors including new play development, playwright commissions, second productions and artistic risks, as well as the theater's award-winning education and community engagement programs, which help bring the excitement of live theater to more than 15,000 disadvantaged youth, seniors, veteran and community members annually.

Backstage at the Geffen title sponsor City National Bank, returning for the seventh year, was joined by presenting sponsors Audi of America, returning for the 11(th) year, Apollo Jets,Douglas Elliman Real Estate and Participant Media, with special thanks to UCLA and CAA.

Event Highlights:

-- The curtain rose to "Ambassador of Soul" Ellis Hall performing Seasons
of Love from Rent, accompanied by a nine-member choir, while images
representing 20 years at the Geffen, were projected in the background.
-- Be Yourself: Rainn Wilson talked about how bombing in his first Broadway
show was a transformative experience. "I decided I'm never going to
pretend to be some classical actor guy to fulfill some idea of what it
is to be on Broadway. I have to be myself. I need to be quirky and odd
and weird looking and embrace that."
-- Formative Years: Honoree Morgan Freeman waxed nostalgic about his early
days in the theater. "My first real career break was on Broadway in 1967
when I landed a part in Hello, Dolly. I know what you're
thinking--Morgan Freeman was Dolly Levi?? That led to work on TV on the
Electric Company--groundbreaking work--remember, I was the first African
American to play a Vegetable Vampire. This brings me here to the Geffen,
the heart and soul of the Los Angeles theater scene for over 20 years."
-- Honoring a Friend: Famed producer Norman Lear introduced Participant
Media founder Jeff Skoll by saying, "I knew he started eBay when he was
12 or maybe 14. Then this man came to this town to put the money he made
to work in the entertainment business with a deep desire to use film and
storytelling to make the world a better place."
-- Stories That Matter: Honoree Jeff Skoll reminded the audience, "Stories
well told are the true catalyst for inspiration and change. Please keep
telling stories that matter and supporting places like the Geffen that
bring those stories to life."
-- Not So Happy Days: Director/producer Garry Marshall, in a bit of
self-deprecating humor, spoke of his first play, which was a "miserable
flop." Subsequently, he was introduced as the Abraham Lincoln of the
theater: "He's tall, he likes to tell stories and he's killed at the
-- High-Priced Talent: In presenting the Distinction in Theater Award to
Morgan Freeman, Alan Horn said, "Morgan Freeman doesn't sound like God.
God sounds like Morgan Freeman." Horn also said that he's been
negotiating to get Freeman to work with the Disney studios, but was
warned he was expensive. How much? "Scale plus 13 Hamilton tickets."
-- 'Why I Love the Theater: Kristin Davis recalled a story about how Angela
Lansbury saved her when she reached for a line she forgot. Apologizing
afterwards, the veteran actress graciously replied that, "Everybody
forgets their lines." "She was so generous," said Davis, "Something
always goes wrong and the person who saves you is usually another actor.
That's why I love the theater."
-- Understudied: Actress Amy Landecker confessed that as a 27-year-old at
the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, she was the Blanche DuBois
understudy--but had failed to master her lines. Her sometimes nervous,
intense and wild ad-lib performance got great reviews anyway, "since
Blanche was so out of her mind, anything I did was OK."
-- Lucky Lunch Break: Young actor Jaeden Lieberher appeared in St. Vincent
with Bill Murray, who intimidated him until he found out that Murray
didn't really like kids. Yet during a press tour, they wound up as pals
when Murray spirited him and fellow cast mates Melissa McCarthy and
Naomi Watts away for a half-hour lunch that stretched to two and a half
hours, keeping an impatient press corps waiting.
-- Spoken Word: Jon Boogz, Lil' Buck and dancers performed an interpretive
dance to a spoken word piece by Robin Sanders inspired by the evening.
-- There's No Place Like Home: Broadway performer Frenchie Davis sang
"Home," from The Wiz, a song whose message encapsulates what many
actors, donors and patrons feel about the Geffen--that it's truly their
-- Arriving in Style: Guests were greeted at the entrance by a 2016 Audi R8
Vio Spyder. Stunning, agile and possessing unrivaled power and
-- Dining With The Stars: Host Committee guests and honorees enjoyed a
pre-show dinner catered by 2016 James Beard winning Chef Suzanne Goin of
Lucques with wines provided by Sterling Vineyards.
-- Sweet Ending: A post-show reception featured an array of luscious
desserts from Ronen Levy, Richard Ruskell, Sprinkles Cupcakes,
DeLuscious Cookies, The Dessert Tree, Bo Nuage and Kakigori Kreamery.

Geffen Playhouse has been a hub of the Los Angeles theater scene since opening its doors in 1995. Noted for its intimacy and celebrated for its world-renowned mix of classic and contemporary plays, provocative new works and second productions, the not-for-profit organization continues to present a body of work that has garnered national recognition. Named in honor of entertainment mogul and philanthropist David Geffen, who made the initial donation to the theater, the company was founded by Gilbert Cates, and is currently helmed by Artistic Director Randall Arney, Executive Director Gil Cates Jr. and Co-Chairs of the Board Martha Henderson and Pamela Robinson. Proudly associated with UCLA, the Geffen welcomes an audience of more than 130,000 each year, and maintains extensive education and community engagement programs, designed to involve underserved young people and the community at large in the arts. Following a strong 2014/2015 season during which five productions extended, the company's 20(th) anniversary season has featured eight productions (two world premieres and three West Coast premieres) featuring some of the nation's leading playwrights and directors. For more information, please visit

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