Granada Legends: Annual Gala Takes the Stage

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 8, 2023
Attendees take to the stage at the Granada Legends Gala (courtesy photo)

There’s no doubt that The Granada Theatre has played a vital role in developing and extending Santa Barbara’s thriving music and performing arts landscape for many decades – especially since 2008, when the theater reopened after a massive multi-million dollar renovation. The result not only restored The Granada to its 1930s glory but established the theater as the gleaming crown jewel of Santa Barbara downtown’s Historic Theatre District. 

Truly a world-class venue, The Granada boasts state-of-the-art electrical, lighting, and sound systems – the latter of which has already been dramatically upgraded in recent years – as well as amenities for both performers and the audience. Entertainment organizations from near and far have found a happy home at The Granada to present their programs, keeping the city’s arts scene humming along at a clip far outstripping its size.

The annual Granada Theatre Legends Gala helps support those ongoing efforts to ensure that the venue continues to actively serve its resident companies – CAMA, the Music Academy, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, American Theatre Guild, and UCSB Arts & Lectures – and engage the local community through diverse live performances and other programming. Funds raised from the gala assist the organization in providing best-practices business and marketing support services for The Granada Theatre’s eight resident companies and its Historic Theatre District partners.

But the event is much more than just another fundraising soirée, as the theater’s mission is embedded in the event itself. Indeed, the Legends Gala broadens the scope beyond The Granada to celebrate the entire region’s rich cultural heritage of artists, organizations, and philanthropy. Recognizing the vital importance of all three pillars in the thriving arts scene in town, each year the gala acknowledges a representative from each sector who have illuminated and advanced the arts in a significant way. 

What’s more, the entire evening takes place on The Granada’s stage, which affords patrons and attendees a rare opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous venue from the performer’s vantage point alongside the honorees and artists. In keeping with the interwoven theme, mini performances from some members of the theater’s resident companies take place all evening, between and during courses and in the spaces between the tables. 

No wonder the annual Granada Theatre Legends Gala has quickly become one of Santa Barbara’s most highly anticipated benefit evenings.

For the seventh annual gala on Saturday, September 16, The Granada Theatre Legends will honor philanthropists Brooks and Kate Firestone, Montecito-based writer and actress Fannie Flagg, and the Ensemble Theatre Company at the New Vic, the first non-resident organization to receive the Cultural Institution recognition. 

The Fruitful Flagg

Fannie Flagg is being recognized this year at the gala for her decades of contributions to the arts and the Granada (courtesy photo)

“Being a Granada Theatre Legend means everything to me,” said Flagg, the veteran star of TV and film turned Academy Award-nominated novelist and screenwriter. “This honor comes from my hometown. It comes from The Granada, which is one of the most beautiful theaters in America. (And) it comes from my friends.”

Flagg’s initial foray into writing dates back to when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play, The Whoopee Girls, as a fifth-grader in Birmingham, Alabama, but the highly successful actress was already a Santa Barbara resident when she first tried her hand at literary writing as an adult. Flagg promptly took first place in fiction for a short story created at the 1978 Santa Barbara Writers Conference, after which she expanded the piece into the best-selling novel Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. Less than a decade later, Flagg penned the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which took up residency on The New York Times bestseller list for nine months, and received praise by other Southern writers Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Eudora Welty (The Optimist’s Daughter).

Flagg adapted Fried Green Tomatoes for the film version and received a nomination for an Academy Award for her screenplay in 1991. But that nod comes in second compared to one she was bestowed with 20 years later: the Harper Lee Award as Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year.

“There is no question about which meant more to me,” Flagg said. “Receiving the Harper Lee Award from my dear friend Harper is without a doubt one of the high points in my writing career. She was so supportive of me throughout the years, which made that award particularly meaningful.” 

Flagg noted she’d enjoyed several memorable experiences at the theater, including one involving fellow Montecito resident Carol Burnett, whose eponymous TV show overlapped the last half of Flagg’s early success as a semi-regular panelist on the 1973-1982 versions of the game show Match Game. 

“I am so happy to support The Granada in any way that I can. I have so many fond memories of attending fundraising events at The Granada with my close friends like Betty Stephensand Joan Rutkowski. Having the pleasure of introducing Carol Burnett when she was named a Legend in 2019 was a highlight for me. (Now I’m) coming back as one of the honorees.” 

As to what legendary storyteller Flagg might unfurl in her acceptance speech at the gala? 

“I can’t possibly answer that question (in advance),” she said. “At moments like this, sometimes I even surprise myself.”

ETC in Good Company

ETC is the first non-resident organization to receive a Legends honor (courtesy photo)

Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) at the New Vic is the first non-resident organization to receive The Granada Legends honor, and the recognition comes just a couple of months after the departure of its longtime artistic director Jonathan Fox. Scott DeVine, who became managing director less than 18 months ago, is also new to town. But the community connection engendered by events like the Legends and exemplified by several ETC recent collaborations with the Santa Barbara Symphony and State Street Ballet at the Granada is not lost on DeVine.

“It is clear that the cultural community here is a family,” he said. “Each performance organization brings something unique to their audiences, and we support each other as we all strive to provide our very best to the community. Collaboration with other artistic organizations is key to inspiring and instilling an appreciation for various art forms.”

DeVine noted that ETC being selected as the first non-resident company to be recognized during The Granada Legends Gala is both humbling and a true honor. 

“It’s particularly rewarding to share the stage with the incredibly talented artists from our sister companies in Santa Barbara,” he said. “We believe that collaboration, in its truest sense, can generate the richest and deepest experiences for our audiences. By melding theater with other art forms that also make their home right here in downtown, we are opening the doors for those who may be less familiar with one form over another.”

ETC also has a sparkling venue of its own just steps away from The Granada, as the company moved from the 140-seat Alhecama Theatre after spearheading a $12.6-million renovation of the Victoria Hall Theater into the New Vic in 2013. With ETC as its managing company, the 300-seat venue also hosts dance, music, film, and lectures.

Over the years, Ensemble, which became an Equity theater in 1989, has produced several American and West Coast premieres, garnering both awards and lots of attention for its five-play seasons. Its upcoming 45th season boasts another world premiere, Alice, Formerly of Wonderland; in addition to the current Broadway comedy, The Thanksgiving Play; the Central Coast premiere of 2022 Tony Award-winning Best Play, The Lehman Trilogy; and two music-themed plays new to town. 

“As Santa Barbara’s only professional theater company, ETC is committed to producing and collaborating on some of the most inspiring and thought-provoking art on the Central Coast,” said DeVine.

At the Legends Gala gathering, ETC will offer something of a sneak preview, with attendees getting a glimpse of the new season via a piece created especially for the Granada Legends Gala, DeVine said. 

“This performance will be memorable for those in attendance and set the stage for an exciting season ahead.”

The Firestone Fervor

Brooks and Kate Firestone are being honored this year for their philanthropic support (courtesy photo)

Humbled also applies to Brooks and Kate Firestone, the power couple who have been deeply involved in the arts and philanthropy fields since moving to the Santa Ynez Valley to establish the Firestone Vineyard after Brooks spent a dozen years working at the Firestone Tire company founded by his grandfather. Firestone Vineyard served as the catalyst for launching the still burgeoning Santa Ynez Valley wine industry, but their influence extended far beyond the grapes. During their time in town, Brooks has served as a Santa Barbara County supervisor and member of the California State Assembly, while Kate turned her focus to supporting Direct Relief in Santa Barbara during its infancy. 

Among other nonprofits the pair have supported are Santa Ynez Valley Vintners’ Association, Meals on Wheels, Solvang Festival Theatre, Hospice Care, Santa Barbara Food Bank, Family School, Dunn School, and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Brooks is a member of The Granada’s board. Their active community involvement and longtime philanthropic support led the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and the Santa Ynez Valley News to honor the couple with a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Granada honor comes five years later. 

“We are somewhat embarrassed to be included in the list of far more able and generous Legend philanthropists but proud of this recognition as an example for others in the future,” the Firestones wrote in an email. “The inspiration for The Granada support was first brought to us by Michael Towbes, and is continuing as an expression of our community’s support for the performing arts. We are proud to be a part of this history.”

Brooks and Kate Firestone first met in 1956 at the stage door of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, where Kate was a dancer with the English Royal Ballet. Both have remained as participants in the performing arts over the years, most recently singing in several local choirs. But don’t expect them to break out in song at the Gala. 

“We both still sing with the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Quire of Voyces, and other choral organizations as a vital activity and a rewarding expression for audience and performers,” they wrote. “(But) we will spare the Legends attendees any solo renditions.”  

For ticket or additional information about the 7th Annual Granada Theatre Legends Gala on Saturday, September 16, call Jill Seltzer, vice president for Advancement, at (805) 899-3000 ext. 130, email, or visit


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The Granada Theatre — owned and operated by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts — serves Santa Barbara by providing a vibrant, state-of-the-art venue where world-class artistic performances are available to the widest possible audience, promoting appreciation for the performing arts and enhancing the quality of life in our community.

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We’re grateful to be a resident company of the beautiful Granada Theatre. Our community is so lucky to have a venue that can house full-scale ballets, operas, and musical theatre. It speaks to the incredible hunger for artistic excellence in Santa Barbara. I hope we can all continue to support this historic theatre, and bring the very best to our audiences for generations to come.
Megan Philipp, State Street Ballet Artistic Director

The Granada Theatre:
Keeping the Performing Arts Flourishing for all of Santa Barbara

A gift to the Granada Theatre not only supports this home for the performing arts in a time when it’s crucial to empower this sometimes increasingly endangered cornerstone of our culture, but also because the Granada Theatre supports and subsidizes eight different companies from disciplines that cover the entire spectrum of the performing arts: CAMA (Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara), the American Theater Guild, the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Opera Santa Barbara, State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Music Academy, and UCSB Arts & Lectures. 

A donation to The Granada Theatre celebrates the hundred years that the theater has presented and supported the performing arts for all of Santa Barbara and helps to ensure that it will be around for another 100 years for future audiences to enjoy as well.

Board of Directors

Palmer Jackson, Jr., Chairman
F. Robert Miller III, Vice Chairman
Dan Burnham, Immediate Past Chairman
Merryl Snow Zegar, Secretary
Roberta Griffin, Treasurer
Sarah Schlinger Chrisman, At Large
Yvette Birch Giller, At Large
Tariqh Akoni
Leslie Bains
Brooks Firestone
Rick Fogg
Janet Garufis
Charles C. Gray
Jamie Maguire
Stephanie Nicks
Maria Schmidt