Ivana Firestone, emcee Andrew Firestone, honorees Kate and Brooks Firestone, Polly Firestone Walker, and award presenter David Walker | Credit: Gail Arnold

On September 16, The Granada Theatre hosted yet another exquisite Legends Gala, this time honoring philanthropists Brooks and Kate Firestone, Ensemble Theatre Company, and Fannie Flagg.

Guests were greeted at the theater entrance and in the foyer by young State Street Ballet trainees sporting classic white tutus and posing in iconic Giselle second act poses. It was a taste of a performance to come — State Street Ballet will perform Giselle next month to music by fellow resident company, the Santa Barbara Symphony.

The 240 guests enjoyed an extended reception in the Founders Room and in the lobby areas, followed by dinner on an elegantly appointed stage. Master of Ceremonies Andrew Firestone, son of Brooks and Kate, began the program on a jovial note, remarking that “most importantly, we are here tonight to honor Kate Firestone —philanthropist, soloist at the Royal Ballet — but my contract obligation says that I have to mention her date, Brooks Firestone.”

Son-in-law David Walker introduced Brooks and Kate, regaling guests with stories of times shared and noting that “these guys live big, big, useful lives, guided by absolutely timeless principles, and have a ‘carpe diem’ spirit like I have never encountered.” He went on to exude how they are an inspiration to him, his family, and, he suspects, to many others present. 

In a video, Kate shared how she and Brooks met in 1956 on a date arranged by friends following one of her performances at the Old Metropolitan Opera House in New York. When she saw Brooks, she related, she knew right away that he was the man she would marry.

Brooks explained how after 12 years in the tire business, they moved here and established the first estate winery in the county and were part of the wine revolution here. As for their passions, Brooks remarked that “we love our family, we love working, we love being involved in the performing arts, and we love singing together around the world.”

They both lauded The Granada Theatre — a symbol of the community and center for the performing arts — that brings to Santa Barbara so many wonderful productions, which people used to have to go to L.A. to see. 

In another comic moment, Brooks stated that they were at a loss for words to express their joy and pleasure for this honor, so they asked some of their friends to help. Instantly, the loge lit up and several dozen members of the S.B. Choral Society, with whom the couple has been singing for 20 years, sang “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Before the tribute to the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC), Jonathan McEuen gave an outstanding performance of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” giving guests a tease of ETC’s musical coming in December.

In presenting the award to ETC, longtime boardmember and supporter Derek Westen detailed the original plan years ago for ETC and the Granada to create a theater together. An inability to acquire all the land rights led the two to pursue separate fundraising efforts which, Westen related, was a brilliant decision because the two theaters have gone on to complement each other, guided by the common goal of creating a vibrant performing arts district. 

In accepting the award, new ETC Board Chair Bob Turbin noted that ETC has always been a team effort, but singled out Jonathan Fox, “the driving artistic force for 17 years,” for being primarily responsible for ETC’s reputation locally and internationally. Fox departed ETC earlier this year, but he was present for the honor.

Next, Opera Santa Barbara entertained guests with a performance of “O Sole Mio.” Then Fannie Flagg’s longtime friend Susan Gulbransen introduced Flagg, noting how Flagg overcame the challenge of writing with dyslexia to author short stories and novels, including Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and 10 other books. On a personal note, Gulbransen praised Flagg for her focus on others.

The Granada Theatre had nearly 100 events in the 2022-23 year. It is the most visible part of the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, which also includes partners the Lobero Theatre and the New Vic Theatre and eight resident companies: CAMA, Music Academy, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, American Theatre Guild, and UCSB Arts & Lectures.

The Granada is dependent on donors — it covers only about half of its expenses through ticket sales, rental income, and investment income.

Board Chair Palmer Jackson Jr., Susan Jackson, Meg Burnham, and immediate past chair Dan Burnham | Gail Arnold
ETC award presenter Derek Westen, former ETC managing director and present SBCPA VP for Advancement Jill Seltzer, ETC Executive Director Scott DeVine, and ETC Board Chair Bob Turbin | Gail Arnold
Event Co-Chair Anne Smith Towbes, honoree Fannie Flagg, and award presenter Susan Gulbransen | Gail Arnold
SBCPA Executive Director and President Caren Rager and Jim Lichtman | Gail Arnold
Event Co-Chair Merryl Snow Zegar and Committee Member Gretchen Lieff | Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy the reception.| Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy dinner on the stage. | Gail Arnold


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