The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the arts in different ways, but many local organizations have still been pushing forward.
Founded in Scottsdale in 1975, Desert Foothills Theater has a forward-thinking approach despite having to cancel the end of the 2019-20 season.
“I think we are in great shape,” says Terry Temple, who started as managing director in December 2019. “The future is bright for Desert Foothills and for the arts in general in the community, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
There will be changes because of his leadership style and because of COVID-19, but the goal is to bring programming that will best serve the community.
“There are people who a little more cautious,” Temple says. “They love this place, and they want it to succeed. We are just trying to convince them that we are all in this thing together. We’re going to make this work. It’s going to feel different. It’s going to look different. I’m going to put my influence on this place. Some people are going to get on board and some people are going to challenge it a little bit, and that’s OK. That’s how it should be. I love that people care about what happens here.”
He and his new staff have been communicating regularly via Zoom, FaceTime and phone chats. The plans they are making will impact this next season as well as future years for the theater company.
The DFT started the first phase of a remodel of the theater space in the FCF-Holland Community Center, where it has produced shows.
The next step is to raise funds for the project. The remodel would create a modular theater space for smaller productions inside the community center.
The new space will also offer professional-level lighting and sound, a backstage area for the actors, moveable seating that can be adapted to shows and rehearsal, and set construction areas. With the space, the center and the theater company will be able to offer more programming.
“What we are proposing gives us so much more flexibility in our scheduling and the types of shows we can do,” Temple says. “It also changes the nature of what the Holland Center can provide. They can do different types of presentations and concerts. This is a mutually beneficial repurposing of the center.”
This next season, the theater company will offer a variety of programming, including well-known classics, youth-focused shows, Broadway hits and intergenerational productions.
The shows and dates have not yet been announced and are contingent on COVID-19 guidelines.
Many of DFT’s productions will take place at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, with which it has a long-standing partnership.
This past season, the company canceled three shows that were already in production, including “Godspell,” “Steel Magnolias” and an original work by local playwright Andrea Markowitz called “Fair Game.” Plans are in progress to put on these shows next season.
“It actually made the planning of the upcoming season a little easier, because there are three shows that were canceled that I certainly want to bring into the next season,” Temple says.
There may be some changes in cast, but many of the actors plan to return.
“People are ready to get back on stage,” Temple says. “They want to do it safely. They want to do it in a sensitive way to their families and communities, but they are itching to get back onstage.”
Moving forward, Temple hopes to showcase more works from local playwrights, through full productions and readings. Readings would allow community members to provide feedback on works that are in progress.
“I want them to feel DFT is a place where they can bring ideas,” Temple says. “If we can put it on stage and we can support the arts and the artists in the community, we are here for them.
“There are people around this community that are marvelous at that, that just know theater and can help them to develop their works.”
Many companies have struggled due to COVID-19, and DFT is not immune. However, the company is in a good financial state, despite having to cancel shows. Having the support of the Foothills Community Foundation helped the theater in weathering tough times.
During COVID-19, the foundation asked the theater company not to do any fundraising.
“We are not doing any active fundraising so that people can focus on those that are most affected by loss of jobs and on food banks,” Temple says.
Temple and his staff have found small ways to get ahead in fundraising efforts, such as working on grant writing.
“I took an approach to really look at our expenses and make sure we were being good stewards of the money we had, that we were spending money well and that we were plugging the holes where we didn’t need to spend money,” Temple says. “We take it very seriously to be good stewards of the money that our donors, our patrons and our sponsors have blessed us with.”
Temple says part of this is that all of his staff, himself included, have been involved in running the theater. This can mean doing small tasks like taking out trash or moving tables and chairs.
“We get done what needs to be done, and there are no egos here. If it needs to get done, people are stepping up, from the executive director to me to everybody on the team,” Temple says.
Moving forward, DFT will focus on engaging the community. This involves getting feedback and involvement from community, governmental and educational leaders, especially from Cave Creek, North Scottsdale and Carefree.
Temple—who owns Temple Music and Performing Arts in Scottsdale with his wife—hopes to create a family environment.
“That is my focus, to bring back tried-and-true theater that appeals to this community, where youth feel at home and families can perform together,” Temple says.
Volunteers will be an integral part. Temple served at the national director for the Survival School, an organization that helps to train nonprofits reliant on volunteers. He has found it is important to not just bring volunteers into an organization but find ways to best utilize their talents.
“I think that we have to treat people well and plug them into a job that matches their gifts,” Temple says.
Summer camps and master classes
This summer, DFT plans to offer summer camps and master classes with Broadway performers for small groups of youth.
“All of that is contingent on guidelines and making sure we are safe place to enter back into,” Temple says.
The community’s wishes will also guide the theater company’s offerings in the summer and upcoming season.
“They may move along quicker or less quickly than the guidelines, and we’ll respond to that. We will get creative with ways to reach out and stay connected to them,” Temple says.
He says he hopes to continue to expand on opportunities for youth to learn and perform. Temple has directed around 50 productions at theaters and schools across the Valley, including the DFT’s recent “The Pirates of Penzance Jr.”
For his daughter, being part of the DFT cast for “Hairspray” helped her grow as a performer. The experience gave Temple an even greater appreciation for the local theater.
“We fell in love with the community, their approach to theater. She still connects with friends from that show, and I still connect with the parents involved in that show and the staff at the time,” Temple says. “We made a connection to this place. It is coming full circle to come back here and take the position as managing director.”