By Bridgette M. Redman
At many theaters, the creative and business management are separate and distinct, often locking horns as they challenge each other in what is artistic and what makes managerial sense.
Terry Temple’s career has always been a marriage of the two, which is part of what he feels makes him the right person for the job at the helm of Desert Foothills Theater. He’s experienced on both sides of the fence—as a manager of nonprofits and as an artist who has extensive acting and directing credits.
It is what snared him the job as managing director of the Scottsdale community theater.
Temple earned a music degree from ASU and went on to be a liturgical musician for 25 years for the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. He owns and manages Temple Music and Performing Arts, a studio that opened in 2009, and teaches acting, directing and dance. He was a national director of Survival School, an organization that trains leaders of large nonprofit organizations who rely on volunteers.
“I understand the artistic side of things—last year I did 10 shows out of my studio at different schools—and I understand the business side,” Temple says.
“There has always been this tension between the artistic and management. The business side doesn’t understand the artistic side; the artistic side doesn’t understand that without a business they don’t exist. I come in with both sides and I’m happy to do both now.”
He was hired in December by the Desert Foothills Foundation after most of the staff had left. He says he was eager to help an organization where he and his family had performed.
“I’m a helper by nature—I want to get in and get my hands dirty in anything that presents itself,” Temple says. “My daughter benefited greatly from her experience at Desert Foothills five years ago and we developed a lot of friendships. It felt like a home that was struggling a little bit and my gifts could help take it to a different level. That’s what propels me. It is such a beautiful arts environment all around there. I’ve always dreamed of running a theater.”
Creating a place for volunteers
Coming from a long career of working with volunteers, he says he has a nontraditional view of the relationship a nonprofit should have with its volunteer base.
“Rather than look at the things we need to get done and tell volunteers, ‘Here, paint this,’ or, ‘Clean this,’ or, ‘Sell tickets,” I’d rather spend the time getting to know the people and their giftedness and what they bring to Desert Hills. Even if something sits undone, that is better than putting someone in a position that their giftedness isn’t being used to the fullest extent,” Temple says.
He says it’s important to look at the organization as being there for the volunteers, not the volunteers being there for the organization. At its core, it’s an organization that exists for the people involved—to meet their needs and give them a place where they can grow and flourish.
“I say at meetings that I don’t think that volunteers exist to get the work of Desert Foothills done,” Temple says. “I think the work of Desert Foothills exists to get the volunteers done so they can use their years of experience to become all that they can be. The work exists for them, not the other way around.”
Nurturing the spirit
Temple values community theater and the role it plays in the lifeblood of a community. He wants to ensure Desert Foothills, which has been around since 1975, continues to be a place where people gather and make connections to others.
“I would like to nurture the enormous spirit that is already at Desert Foothills. There are people who love Desert Hills Theater and would do anything for it,” Temple says. “I want to find more of these people and treat them well, treat them as sources, not resources, to get our work done, to make them really feel a part of it. The amount of people who have stepped up and said, ‘What do you need from me?’ is really humbling.”
He wants to see Desert Hills go beyond just a place where plays and musicals are performed and become a destination—a home for people. While he knows ticket buyers are needed and that they are important, he also values having a community that is engaged in what is going on. He would love to see students come to the theater, regardless of whether they are working on a show.
“My ideal thing is an art YMCA where kids can come by after school and do their homework, get help with it, do creative one-act plays, have a healthy snack and go to dance rehearsal or music class or theater rehearsal,” Temple says. “It would just be a place for artistic-minded people young and old.”
For now, the theater’s staff is being rebuilt, starting with Temple’s position. He cites the excellent support from the Foothills Community Foundation in keeping the theater running and helping him get started as the managing director.
The theater is now identifying its most pressing needs as it builds from the ground up. In the long term, it hopes to hire a development director, education director, community outreach person and artistic director.
All this is happening while making sure the next show goes on. In Temple’s first months on the job, he oversaw the productions of “And Then There Were None,” “Honk Jr.” and “Freud’s Last Session.”
He plans to tilt toward more children’s and intergenerational theater in the future.
“As I go through the archives and see who the theater has been to the community, and what has worked and what hasn’t, I’m a big proponent of children’s theater and educational opportunities,” Temple says.
“I want to get back to that, to add more children’s shows and also intergenerational shows where parents and kids can participate together. That’s the community aspect, but never letting go of the artistic stuff. We have to push to sell tickets, but the theater must intrinsically add to the artistic element of the community.”
He’s not creating something new. He wants to tap into Desert Foothills’ more than four-decade existence.
“There are marvelous things that have happened in our past,” Temple says. “I want to pick and choose what works best.”
For now, he has hit the ground running and is doing his best to keep Desert Foothills an active and engaging theater. He describes himself as a work in progress involved in a work in progress and acknowledges that not everything he tries will work.
“I fully intend on failing occasionally and learning from it and moving on,” Temple says. “I would hope people would give me that opportunity to experiment a little, trust me a little bit that I know what I’m doing, but that I don’t have all the answers and I’m open to the wisdom of the community.”
Desert Foothills Theater, 480.488.1981, dftheater.org.