Desert Foothills Theater Roars Back to the Stage

By Kathryn M. Miller

Actors see the world in a different way. That is according to Terry Temple, managing director of Desert Foothills Theater (DFT) since December 2019.

The heart of the theater, actors “march to the beat of a different drummer and they have a particular need, I have found, for like-minded people to be able to be expressive and creative, bounce things off of, and be accepted,” he said.

As he and his team were gearing up for DFT’s upcoming season, Temple shared his thoughts on what theater means to actors, to him personally and to a community in general — and what it means to be without it.

Like other Arizona performing arts organizations, DFT had to cut its 2019–20 season short. They closed in February, during production of Honk, Jr., “And we were in full production for two subsequent shows,” shared Temple. “We had to shut down very close to opening of Steel Magnolias and just after we had started rehearsals for Godspell.”

With theaters closed, the DFT team sat down to map out their next move. The upcoming season had to be reimagined. And what about all of those young actors who were now home from school, too?

“Theater is a place where kids get to learn interdependence, learn responsibility, learn public speaking, confidence in front of others,” Temple shared. “The reason I found theater was because it just allowed me to get comfortable being in front of people and being myself and discovering myself. It is just an essential…”

Beyond what theater does for the actors, though, is the connection that is made with the audience Temple said.

“They desire that momentary escape, and a good story, something that they can invest [in] and relate to.”

He added that the community plays an integral role in the health of local theater and expressed that DFT’s community has been fantastically supportive over the years.

“Communities need theater and theaters need communities. We do as much for the community as the community does for us.”

What DFT did for the community over the summer months was to provide a creative outlet for area children. A number of parents contacted the theater looking for ways to keep their children engaged.

“We heard that term several times, ‘Our kids are sliding back,’ that they’re missing their friends, that they are spending way too much time in front of the screens when they’re not in school, in front of the screen,” Temple related. “They are doing their social activities in front of a screen even, talking to friends or online gaming. And they just said, ‘It’s time.’”

So, DFT created smaller, more safely manageable summer camp programs for children. They “dipped their toes in” and it was a huge success.

“And that’s kind of what propelled us to start looking at our new season and say it’s time to come out of the cave, as it were, and just look at how we can do traditional shows but under the umbrella of the COVID restrictions.”

DFT will kick off its fall season at the Holland Community Center with The Lion King, Jr., Sept. 18–27.

“The shows that we are going to be producing this year are going to be high quality,” Temple said. “We are not dropping the quality of the shows, COVID is not going to affect us at all that way. The only thing it is going to do is affect our audience size.”

Expressing his hope for the community to be a part of that audience, he concluded, “We are going to keep them safe and keep them distanced. But we hope that they will take a little bit of a chance and come out and see live theater again.” |CST

Learn more: 480.488.1981;

The Performing Arts vs. The Pandemic: A Story in Three Acts

By Kathryn M. Miller

Act 1: The Villain Enters

In March, Valley theaters were in peak performance mode. Venues were full and residents were enjoying the remarkable variety of live entertainment that the Greater Phoenix area has to offer. And then, like an off-cue villain in a play, a pandemic made an untimely appearance on stage, stealing the spotlight and wreaking havoc on the scenery.

Theaters were shuttered, as were local music venues — live, in-person performance came to a standstill.

For Arizona Theatre Company (ATC), the last in-person performance was The Legend of Georgia McBride, “We opened and closed on March 13,” recalled Sean Daniels, artistic director at ATC.

ATC’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will close its 2020-21 season.

Arizona hunkered down and waited…and wondered. Would these beloved institutions be able to weather the storm?

Act 2: A Gauntlet is Thrown

“I think like everybody, this has been a challenging moment,” Daniels said. “The thing that we are hearing nationwide is that 40 percent of our not-for-profits are not going to survive this moment. So, that’s the bad news.”

Like other arts organizations, ATC had to get creative over the summer months and find ways to not only create art that will keep audiences engaged, but to keep the company viable. A safe return, especially for those whose livelihoods depend on the theater, was continually in the back of Daniels’ mind.

“I always want those people to know that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that the organization goes forward and that it is still here when they come back. The worst thing in all of this would be, it’s over in six to seven months and everybody returns, and the cultural landscape is gone.”

Daniels’ concerns are shared. According to an August Brookings report, the creative economy is one of the sectors most at risk from the COVID-19 crisis. Arts, culture and creativity are one of three key sectors that drive regional economies, and “Any lasting damage to the creative sector will drastically undercut our culture, well-being, and quality of life.”

In fact, Arizona’s arts and culture industries contribute $9.3 billion to the state’s economy, employing 91,878 Arizonans who earn a combined total of $4.9 billion annually.

So, as September rolls in, where do arts organizations stand?

Act 3: Undaunted, A Season Awaits

“The good news is that we have really used this moment to try to pivot to digital and to really try to refortify a healthy organization,” Daniels shared.

Abbey Messmer, programming director at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts feels the same, “We are really grateful as an organization to be intact after five months of completely shutting down our venue, but behind the scenes we’ve all been really active. We’ve managed to adapt in a lot of ways…and certainly that means staying connected.”

Now, six months after they were closed, theaters will crack the doors open ever so slightly. While most will wait until 2021 to resume in-person performances, some venues and organizations have created ways and spaces for people to gather in a safer manner. Others are creating digital programming that will allow them to continue to engage and connect with even broader audiences until they can once again throw the doors wide open.

The Center will kick off its season of live, in-person performances Sept. 26 with Jazz con Alma, part of its Jazz Lounge series.

“We are starting off with local, and I think it is important to activate our community who has been out of work,” added Messmer. “We’re kind of easing back into the season.”

ATC will begin its season with a full line-up of digital programming and, coming full circle, it will close its 2020–21 season with The Legend of Georgia McBride.

Like so many arts organizations, Daniels feels that ATC will come out of 2020 stronger for having faced the challenges presented, but they won’t be able to do it alone.

“We are going to make it through this, but we need the support of the community to be able to do it.” |CST

%d bloggers like this: