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The Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara (ETC) began as the Ensemble Theatre Project in 1978 under the direction of Joseph Hanreddy. For the first three years, plays were performed at Trinity Episcopal Church. In 1981 ETC rented the 140-seat Alhecama Theatre which has been its home ever since.
After Joseph Hanreddy left Santa Barbara in 1985, Robert Grande Weiss became Artistic Director, a position he held until his retirement in 2006. Jonathan Fox assumed the position of Executive Artistic Director in September, 2006.
ETC, which became an Equity theatre in 1989, is Santa Barbara’s longest running professional theatre company. Five plays are produced each season for three weeks each. ETC, its directors and actors have won numerous awards over the years, the LA Backstage West Garland Award to Robert Grande Weiss for directing Picasso at the Lapin Agile in 2000, the Independent’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Individual Artistic Excellence to Robert Grande Weiss in 2007, and Indy’s in 2008 to Jonathan Fox for directing This Is How It Goes, to Jenny Sullivan for directing The Clean House and to Shannon Koob for her performance in The Syringa Tree.
In addition to the mainstage plays, Storybook Theatre (created by Robert Grande Weiss) has been producing plays for children since 1988. Presently under the direction of Miller James, Storybook produces a children's play each year at the Alhecama. In addition to weekend performances, 34 school groups (Preschool – 6th grade) came to the theater in the 2007-08 season; the performances were also seen in 17 schools by 5,100 K-6 students.
The Alhecama Theatre itself has a long history in Santa Barbara’s arts community. The site, including art studios and the theatre had been used in the 1920’s and 30’s by the School of the Arts, a branch of the Community Arts Association. Plays were produced in the Little Theatre by the Presidio Players. The School of the Arts closed in 1934; in 1937 A. Douglas Harmer rented the Little Theatre for the Pueblo Players and renamed the building the Pueblo Playhouse.
In 1939 to prevent conversion of the site into a parking lot, Mrs. Alice Schott purchased the property and in 1945 gave it to the city schools for an adult education program and community theatre. Under Mrs. Schott’s ownership, the theatre had been remodeled and the building named Alhecama for the four Schott daughters: Alice, Helen, Catherine and Mary. From 1949 to 1981, first the Alhecama Players and later the Alhecama Alternative Theatre produced plays at the Alhecama Theatre as part of the adult education program of the city schools (to 1958) and then as part of the Continuing Education Division of Santa Barbara Junior College (now Santa Barbara City College). In 1981, the college traded the Alhecama site to the city schools for Garfield School (now the Schott Center for Adult Education); the city schools in turn sold the Alhecama Center to the State Park system.
Read an article published on October 8, 2009 (Santa Barbara Independent) about ETC's 30th Anniversary.