Ensemble Theatre Opens Its New Season
by Charles Donelan
Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC), Santa Barbara’s oldest continuously operating Actors’ Equity Association theater, opens its new season this week with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. ETC also has a new executive artistic director, Jonathan Fox, with whom I spoke last week. He’s an impressive guy — warm and intelligent, very business-like, and fun to talk to. He’s also a world-class director with a string of successes behind him at Two River Theatre in Manasquan, New Jersey, where he was also executive artistic director. ETC, which has a history of backstage drama involving its directorship, is thus embarking on an interesting hand-off season, with the departing artistic director, veteran Robert Grand-Weiss, directing the first show, and the incoming Jonathan Fox directing the last.
Pinter’s Betrayal, known worldwide for its reverse chronological structure, is one of the greatest modern tragedies, taking the audience deep inside the lives and emotions of three people caught in a devastating erotic triangle. Ann Noble will play Emma, Hayden Adams is Robert, and Geoffrey Lower is Jerry. In an unusual move for ETC, they chose to cast this show through a casting agent; the result is three L.A.-based actors in the main parts, complemented by Santa Barbara’s own Lawrence Duff as the waiter. If you like Pinter, it should be terrific. If you don’t, it will probably still be pretty good.
The rest of the season is looking exciting as well. The skeptical examination of marriage begun by Betrayal continues in November and December with Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, directed by Peter Lackner. The Memory of Water, the acclaimed Irish play that was a big hit in London, will be helmed by Jenny Sullivan. The final two shows of the year are The Violet Hour by Richard Greenberg and This Is How It Goes by Neil LaBute, which will be the new executive artistic director’s directorial debut. Break a leg, Jon. Interest in ETC tends to run high among those in Santa Barbara’s professional theater scene. Below are a few of the exchanges I had with Jonathan Fox about the larger direction of the theater that should be of interest to the community.
How did you decide to do this, and what are your plans? When I looked at the programming that ETC has done in the last few years I was delighted that I saw all these similarities and overlaps with Two River Theatre, where I was at the time. For instance, I directed Betrayal at Two River 10 years ago. I saw that there’s been a very high intellectual level to what’s been produced here by ETC, and that is what got me interested. Now that I am here, I want to use that tradition as a starting point and develop new things from that. I am particularly interested in potential collaborations, both national and international.
Are you thinking of anything in particular right now for a collaboration? I’m directing a show in Vienna in the spring that’s not for ETC, but now we are talking about a production of that show here for next season. Collaborations don’t just save money — they also enhance the reputation of the company.
How are you working with ETC’s existing board of directors? We’re going to get together soon to develop a strategic plan, and I am making it my priority to develop the board.
Do you have a marketing plan? Part of our marketing plan is to hire a marketing director. We’re searching now, and this will be a full-time position — director of marketing and development. There are also openings for a company manager and a box office assistant.
Are you nervous about coming into a company with such a strong local history? It’s going to be a very exciting time. There are going to be a lot of changes. I’m not going to neglect the 27-year history here. I know that people love this theater, and I am happy that people who do love the theater are encouraging me to bring some new ideas to it.
What’s your feeling about your relationship with the board right now? I feel that the board wants me to succeed. They want what I am bringing to this organization, and so far I have felt nothing but support. Some boards want people who will keep things the same, and others want to change, and that’s what is happening here.
4•1•1 For more information about the Ensemble Theatre Company and its upcoming season, visit ensembletheatre.com.