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Neighborhood Series: Ensemble Theatre Company

Jill Seltzer, Managing Director (center)

“Our neighbors are like an extension of our family – we have a shared community and, therefore, a shared sense of home. “ – Andrea Light, Finance and Investments Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation

Previously in the Neighborhood Series, we talked to Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) to learn just how important our neighborhood is to its mission of providing families with prevention and intervention services to reduce child abuse. We also learned about some of the unique partnerships that CALM has formed in the neighborhood, such as with the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC), its neighbor at the New Vic Theatre. So we decided to follow the trail and find out what this neighborhood means to ETC.

“Personally, neighborhood means having a shared sense of responsibility of what goes on, looking out for each other and being aware of each other’s needs,” said Jill Seltzer, Managing Director of ETC. “For example, we share a courtyard with CALM and we always make sure that we check with each other before having events in the space.”

Even though ETC did not become CALM’s neighbor until 2013, it operated in the neighborhood long before that. Founded in 1979 as a true ensemble theatre group, which means that the same actors would perform for each different play, ETC formerly performed at Alhecama Theatre, which is now a part of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Over time, the group transformed from ensemble theatre into Santa Barbara’s regional equity theatre, which casts equity actors as well as professional actors. As it grew, the group began to need more space and in the fall of 2013, ETC leased the New Vic Theatre on Victoria, which is also originally a part of the same Baptist Church as its neighbor CALM. ETC was able to purchase the building in 2016 and now officially calls the New Vic home.

“The New Vic is 300-seat intimate and warm performance space and has helped professionalize what ETC can produce, from American classics to new and exciting interpretations and experiments,” said Seltzer. “It has opened the door for us to collaborate with other organizations in town and become part of the Historic Theatre District.”

The Historic Theatre District collaboration gives ETC the chance to partner with Santa Barbara’s other historic theatres, which are also neighbors in the downtown district – the Granada Theatre, Lobero Theatre and ETC – to further promote the performing arts in Santa Barbara. In addition to this collaboration, ETC has partnered with State Street Ballet and the Santa Barbara Symphony, one of its office neighbors in the Hutton Parker Foundation’s Art & Culture Center, on some of its past performances and hopes to continue to do so in the future.

“Santa Barbara is unique because of its shared pride in the arts and because it wants to support all art forms,” said Seltzer. “Instead of a sense of competition between arts, there is one of collaboration and support, which will help ETC work across art forms and across sectors to insure its role in the Santa Barbara community.”

One way that ETC has begun to collaborate across sectors is by working with school districts in the area. In addition to hosting high school students at some of its productions, ETC recently hired an Education Director to start a program that will send teaching artists into classrooms to teach students about the different aspects of theatre production, such as playwriting, acting and sound design. For the past two years, ETC has also rented out the New Vic to Bishop Garcia Diego High School for its talent show, which has proven to be a mutual learning experience for the student production team and the professionals at ETC.

“Art is sometimes the only way that people can express themselves and connect to others,” said Seltzer. “Lessons that are learned through art are not always taught in the classroom and can be some of the most valuable, for both teachers and students.”

As ETC works to increase awareness about the value and importance of art among youth and the Santa Barbara community at large, it also looks forward to offering its neighborhood patrons an exciting 2017-2018 season to enjoy after dinner at a nearby restaurant, such as Olio e Limone, Opal Restaurant and Bar, Santa Barbara Public Market or Jane Restaurant.

“Santa Barbara is such a friendly town and there is so much comradery, which has been extremely helpful for raising awareness about ETC,” said Seltzer. “You cannot walk down the street in this neighborhood without someone recognizing you and I am ashamed to say that the people at the Starbucks on the corner know my order by heart. If remembering my coffee order every morning isn’t being a good neighbor, than I don’t know what is.”

Stay tuned for the next Neighborhood Series as we continue the conversation with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, where ETC rehearsed in the Alhecama Theatre, and learn what this neighborhood means to them.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101