Through 50th-anniversary gala and donation, theater gains $3 million.

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George Argyros with his wife Julianne Argyros, honorary chair, at the start of South Coast Repertory’s 50th anniversary gala in Costa Mesa.

South Coast Repertory’s founders, David Emmes and Martin Benson, were feted and honored at a lavish 50th-anniversary gala on Saturday that culminated with a surprise announcement: a $2 million gift from the Argyros family.

The revelation came during a ceremony on the Segerstrom Stage in front of an audience of 420 supporters, whose participation in the dinner party had already raised more than $1 million for the Costa Mesa theater.

Julianne Argyros, the honorary chairwoman of the gala, gave meaning to the soiree’s name, “Theatrical Gold,” during her turn at the podium. She and her husband, George, are major SCR donors; its second stage is named after her.

Argyros began by saying that her childhood dream of being a performer never came true. Then she electrified the room with a statement. “Because theaters do cost so much money, and because I’m married to a very generous gentleman, George and I and the Argyros Family Foundation … would like to give to SCR $2 million.”

A collective gasp rippled through the audience, followed by 40 seconds of lusty applause. Benson and Emmes, seated behind George Argyros, seemed shocked by the news. Emmes placed his hand over his heart; Benson smiled and shook his head.

“Now we can say we netted $3 million,” Julianne Argyros continued. “So now that you have that extra money, do you think I could have a part in that Christmas play?”

Seated near the front of the auditorium, members of the veteran team that stages SCR’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” responded enthusiastically.

“What part do you want to play?” one of them shouted, to laughter and applause.

“Please make sure you write her a part,” said SCR artistic director Marc Masterson before introducing the next host, former Emulex executive chairman Paul Folino, who provided the evening’s second announcement.

In 2002, Folino donated $10 million to SCR to help its expansion, at that time the largest individual gift to a regional theater. SCR’s three-venue complex was named the Folino Theatre Center in his honor.

“I’ve been blessed to have my name on this theater center for 11 years,” Folino said. “But my contributions … pale in comparison to what David and Martin have done for the past 50 years. …

“I can’t think of a better way of thanking them for all they’ve accomplished than to rename the Folino Theatre Center the David Emmes and Martin Benson Theatre Center.”

“I’m speechless,” Emmes said.

“That’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear him say that,” Benson cracked.

“Theatrical Gold” began at 5:30 p.m. with drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the terrace. Two athletic young women suspended upside down on ropes poured sparkling wine into tall flutes.

Guests were greeted by Masterson, George and Julianne Argyros, SCR board President Damien Jordan, managing director Paula Tomei and several of the gala’s organizers.

Following the announcements on the Segerstrom Stage, everyone returned to the terrace for a four-course dinner at tables on tiered platforms surrounded by billowing diaphanous curtains and white canopies.

Flat-screen TVs flashed production photos and high points from the theater’s half-century history.

The evening ended with a dance party on the Argyros Stage, which was decorated to resemble a glitzy nightclub.

“It’s all been a lot of fun,” said actor Richard Doyle, one of SCR’s founding artists, who has performed at the theater regularly since its first season when he was 19. “I have so many happy memories here. When I met David and Martin and heard about what they wanted to do, I thought, ‘This is the place I want to be.’ And here I’ve stayed.”