On August 21, the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) hosted a delightfully entertaining evening in the spacious garden of the Santa Barbara Club. With 140 supporters in attendance, the event netted about $200,000 for ETC’s performances and education programs.
During the cocktail hour, guests socialized while enjoying music by Chris Fossek and perusing silent auction items, including a painting by Ruth Ellen Hoag, which the artist was creating on stage throughout the evening.
Guests were welcomed by Board President Simon Williams, who shared that the upcoming season will be the most exciting, relevant, and funny season there has ever been. Artistic Director Jonathan Fox remarked on how last season had its challenges, but ETC successfully put on five plays with no COVID cancellations. What’s more, Fox noted, the season provided proof that there is nothing like live theater — actually being in the theater with the performers.
Guests were treated to an enchanting performance by Linda Purl, whom many supporters knew from last season’s production of Tenderly. In between brilliantly performed songs with a live band, Purl entertained guests with short, amusing life stories. She expressed her gratitude to guests for their support, noting how important the live theater arts are to her in processing life — not as an actress, but as a citizen. Also in attendance was her partner, actor Patrick Duffy.
Fox gave a glimpse of the upcoming season, including the opening with Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein’s all-Black adaption of the opera Carmen set during World War II in a parachute factory. Guests were treated to a sneak peak of this: an impressive performance by Constance Jewell Lopez, who will play Frankie in the play, accompanied on the piano by Music Director William Foster McDaniel.
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Next up, according to Fox, will be the funniest version ever of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Patrick Barlow and directed by Jamie Torcellini. Selling Kabul is a gripping thriller, taking place in real time, about an Afghan who was an interpreter for the U.S. and after the withdrawal is being hunted down by the Taliban. The Children is a complex, funny thriller about a couple living on the coast of the U.K. outside a nuclear reactor during a flood. Seared is about a Brooklyn restaurant where the chef’s scallop dish scores a rave in N.Y. Magazine, and then the chef refuses to make the dish because he is too much of an artist.
In an interview, Managing Director Scott DeVine related how returning to full operations after the COVID shutdown has been challenging, but ETC has been fortunate to receive support from donors and those who purchase tickets. The upcoming season also presents challenges, with COVID continuing and inflation driving up overall costs by 20 percent. DeVine expressed gratitude for “ever-generous donors, without whom professional theatre could not survive in Santa Barbara.” Donations account for more than 60 percent of ETC’s annual operating income.
ETC offers acting classes for kids and adults in the fall, winter, and spring, and its Young Actors Conservatory offers programs in the summer. Full scholarships are provided to about one-third of youth, and some youth receive partial scholarships There’s also an annual, free four-month-long Playwrights Festival for teens that includes mentoring by professional playwrights and a public festival of readings with professional actors and directors.
Special student matinees, including four this upcoming season, bring area high school students to the theater. ETC provides advance study guides, a pre-show workshop, tickets, a post-performance talk with the cast, and transportation, all free of charge, to students in S.B. County schools.
For more info, go to etcsb.org.