(L-R) Dante Di Loreto, Cady Huffman and Anthony Edwards entertained and inspired at “Off the Record: An Intimate Conversation” fundraiser for CommUnify. | Photo: Helene Glassman

The nonprofit CommUnify (communifysb.org) has been part of the Santa Barbara County community for 55 years, and the organization (previously The Community Action Commission) really is all about community, as was highlighted in last week’s fundraising event at Belmond El Encanto, featuring actors Anthony Edwards (Top Gun, Revenge of the Nerds) and Cady Huffman (Will Rogers Follies, The Producers)  in an intimate conversation moderated by producer Dante Di Loreto (Glee, American Horror Story). 

All three of them are proud products of the many Santa Barbara youth theater groups and productions available during their childhoods and teenage years, and as Di Loreto said, “Having the opportunity to give back to a group that helps the less fortunate is a no-brainer.”

A multi-pronged organization that focuses on improving the economic stability of and providing services for Santa Barbara County’s most vulnerable residents, a sampling of CommUnify programs includes Early Head Start, Head Start, Seniors Safe at Home, Los Compadres Youth Mentoring Program and many others. CommUnify also served as the original home for pilot nonprofit programs that later grew into the Friendship Center and Easy Lift Transportation, among others. 

Anthony Edwards at “Off the Record: An Intimate Conversation” fundraiser for CommUnify. | Photo: Helene Glassman

After a brief introduction by Chief Development Officer Julie Weiner, and a video featuring Congressmember Salud Carbajal, Edwards, Huffman and Di Loreto jumped into an entertaining conversation about Santa Barbara and its connection to their careers.

Edwards, who has been friends with Di Loreto since their youth, said that his “slightly older” buddy taught him to drive in the Lobero Theatre parking lot, which later came in handy when he landed his first commercial at age 16 and had to drive a car in it. The ad was with baseball legend Reggie Jackson, said Edwards. “I had to ask him, ‘Hey Reggie. How do you get to the ballpark?’ To which he replied, ‘Practice.’” 

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Practice was indeed a theme for much of the conversation: Both Huffman and Edwards shared that their breadth and depth of experiences working with Santa Barbara theater teacher greats like Marjorie Luke, the Hamlin Dance Studio and others prepared them extremely well for becoming entertainment industry pros at a young age. 

The always entertaining Cady Huffman at “Off the Record: An Intimate Conversation” fundraiser for CommUnify. Photo: Helene Glassman

“They really set the bar, like this is what professionalism is,” said Edwards. “They were really tough, but there was such excellence here. And that excellence comes from the joy of hard work. We just really loved it.”

Huffman, who in 1986 worked with legendary choreographer Bob Fosse on his final original musical Big Deal, joked that she’s the “oldest living Fosse dancer,” and said of that experience,  “He was the first genius I worked with. Truly genius. But I’ve worked with so much excellence, you know, really high-level production values. The movie All That Jazz (about Fosse’s life) is pretty accurate.”

One takeaway from all three entertainment industry pros was how much everything has to align just perfectly in order for a play, a film, or a TV show to work well. Edwards and Di Loreto actually had a production company together for a time, producing several films, including the 2010 HBO film Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes in the true story of an autistic woman whose innovations revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses. 

“The intention is always like, this is a wonderful script. But the magic of what makes you really talk about this, is that the wild thing … just crazy synergy with the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Edwards of his eight-year stint as Dr. Mark Greene on the TV show ER. “But then how do you manage it? That’s really hard work.”

Royal pride was in the house at “Off the Record: An Intimate Conversation” fundraiser for CommUnify, with (L-R) Melissa Gough, Cady Huffman, Zak Klobucher, Leslie Dinaberg, and Janice Bowie. Photo: Ernesto Paredes


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