Desert Stages Theatre Marks 18 Years
When the founders of Desert Stages Theatre opened their first production, "The Ugly Duckling," Aug. 18, 1995, in Scottsdale, they had little time or resources to envision that 18 years later they would have staged more than 7,000 shows.
Aug. 18, 2012, Desert Stages marked its golden celebration – exactly 18 years after its founding near the corner of McDonald and Granite Reef in Scottsdale.
“The journey has been much more exciting and challenging and wonderful than ever expected,” Laurie Cullity, Desert Stages co-founder, says. “We’re still going strong, thanks to our actors, volunteers, subscribers, fans, families and anyone who has ever been generous to our community theater just by their presence.
“The truth of community theater is that it does belong to those who build the sets, act on the stages and see the shows.”
It has been an emotional journey for Cullity, who, while a co-founder, unexpectedly inherited the reins of the theater after the passing of her late husband and Desert Stages co-founder, Gerry Cullity. The late Cullity was known as a brilliant, high-energy producer, writer, set designer, director and original lyricist, authoring several musical adaptations for the stage.
Meanwhile, Cullity’s vision is now reality. And, with the addition of creative director Terry Helland, who joined the team in 2006, the theater has firmly integrated itself within the theatrical community. Helland oversees Mainstage Cullity Hall productions as well as a third stage series, The Actor’s Café Series. Altogether, with the Children’s Theatre Series, Desert Stages Theatre produces more than 400 stage performances each season, along with a children’s acting academy.
“We’re committed every season to produce excellence on our stages,” Helland says. “The goal is always a fabulous theatrical experience for our audiences, accessible right there in Scottsdale, with the best talent around. The results are surprising for many who don’t expect the level of professionalism in a community playhouse like ours.”
The theater’s founders – the late Cullity, Laurie and Gerry’s mother, Joan Thompson – began their dream with only 13 hopeful thespians auditioning for that first production. Today, 200 to 300 hopeful performers regularly showcase their greatest talents for the chance to appear in a Desert Stages Theatre production.
Through the years, 17 original productions or musical adaptations by Gerry Cullity have premiered at Desert Stages Theatre. In addition, Cullity collaborated on four nationally touring musicals at Desert Stages, focusing on topics of health – teen pregnancy, tobacco use, teen violence and hospice care – that soared to award-winning success.
In its earliest years, Desert Stages was a children’s theatre. Then in 1999, the Mainstage Series in Cullity Hall was established to extend the creative experienced to teens, adults and seniors. In early 2000, the community playhouse opened its Academy of Theatrical Arts to provide young, would-be actors with the skills needed to perform.
In 2004, Desert Stages Theatre moved its theater to downtown Scottsdale, at its present location just north of Scottsdale Fashion Square, expanding both theater series, as well as classes. Soon, a third theatrical series – Actor’s Café Series – began for long-running, professional productions in an intimate setting with room for an audience of 65. With this third series in place, the theater achieved its dream of offering a creative platform for nearly any facet of an actor’s development.
Desert Stages Theatre has enjoyed an extensive list of awards and recognitions, both locally and nationally. In 2001, Gerry Cullity was awarded Arts Advocate of the Year, and in 2002, he received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream Award. Desert Stages Theatre was presented with the President’s Daily Point of Light Award in 1999, for its production of “Think it Through Revue,” one of the four nationally toured health musicals. This was the first President’s Daily Point of Light Award for Arizona and the second theatrical production in the nation to receive the award.
Submitted by Desert Stages Theatre
Photos by Heather Butcher