Laurie Cullity gets a little teary-eyed watching delicate hummingbirds dance outside her kitchen window as she talks about changes coming to Desert Stages Theatre, the company she founded with husband Gerry Cullity and Joan Thompson in 1995.
She’s facing a significant change without him, moving Desert Stages to inside Scottsdale Fashion Square early next year. Gerry suffered a fatal heart attack in 2005, but Laurie still feels his presence when butterflies or hummingbirds flit nearby.
For Gerry, an actor and playwright whose many works include “The Butterfly’s Day,” both creatures represented change.
When Desert Stages makes its move from its current home just north of the mall to the former Harkins Theatres space near the Fashion Square food court — in January, if renovations go as planned — it will be just one of many changes the theater company has experienced over the years.
In 1995, the Cullitys moved to Scottsdale from New Jersey, where they’d been heavily involved with community theater. Eager to start a new theater company, they put notices in neighborhood mailboxes about upcoming auditions for Gerry’s adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling.”
About a dozen kids showed up for that audition, held in a parking lot near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. Soon after, the couple secured their first theater space — a 1,000-square-foot dental office. In 2004, Scottsdale offered them their current space, a stand-alone building with about 6,000 square feet on Scottsdale Road just north of Camelback Road.
For years, the company has presented shows for youth and adult audiences on multiple stages there, using several different casts in children’s productions so more youth could participate. About 100 kids audition for every youth show, and Cullity likes to include as many as she can.
But now, she says, their building is being demolished to make way for new condominiums. So Macerich Inc., the California firm that owns Scottsdale Fashion Square, suggested they take the space formerly used by Harkins Theatre before its move to larger digs on the east end of the mall.
Desert Stages has a 10-year lease and will pay $10,000 per month for the space, Cullity says. So, serious fundraising efforts are under way.
They’ll start renovations in October — ending up with two theaters, several offices, a concessions area, dressing rooms and plenty of restrooms. Desert Stages will go from having a 60-seat black-box theater to an 80-seat one, and their new theater-in-the-round will have 245 seats, up from 136 in their current home.
“We’ll go from 13 to 15 shows a season,” Cullity says. “That’s a new production every five weeks.”
Clearly, constant change is a way of life for Cullity and her cadre of staff, volunteers and performers.
“Every time I think that we’ve arrived, nature keeps coming back to say, ‘You’re a cocoon, you’re going to be another butterfly,’ ” Cullity says. “If I see a hummingbird or butterfly every day, then I know my husband is here with me.”
Upcoming family-friendly performances at Desert Stages
Through Sunday, Sept. 18: Disney’s “Camp Rock.”
Sept. 30-Oct. 30: “Seussical.”
Nov. 11-Dec. 18: “Elf the Musical, Jr.”
Nov. 25-Dec. 23: “Coney Island Christmas.”
Feb. 24-March 26: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
May 26-June 18: “School of Rock, Youth Edition.”