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DFT's History


For over 39 years Desert Foothills Theater has been providing theater experiences to the Northeast valley. It was founded in 1975 by Anne and Carl Nusbaum. They had grease paint in their veins, and wanted to share their deep love of live theater with everyone in the Desert Foothills.


Starting under canvas, they began their plays and musicals wherever it was possible to set up the tent. After the tent was destroyed by a storm, they moved to the Carefree Inn, then to Pierre’s Playhouse (later destroyed by a fire), then to el Pedregal and finally to the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center.

Our high-quality shows are produced with the help of extensive volunteer support. We pride ourselves on being a true community-supported theater that also provides support to the community through performances, education and outreach.   With a focus on participation, we encourage everyone to not just attend, but to be part of, our productions.

In 1996, Desert Foothills Theater was invited to join the umbrella of the Foothills Community Foundation (FCF). The foundation supports organizations that provide community service to the Desert Foothills area. FCF provides 501(c)(3) conduit support as well as general administrative support.  Desert Foothills Theater is the largest program of FCF with an annual budget that accounts for over half of the FCF budget.  In the summer of 2009, DFT was able to move, along with FCF, into the new FCF-Holland Community Center. The facility provides new rehearsal, classroom and office space, but not a performing location.


In the fall of 2005, DFT collaborated with Black Mountain Elementary School and with support from Carefree Kiwanis and BMES PTO, created a small 50-seat black box theater which became home to a fledgling youth theater program.  The first production in the black box, Rats! featured 35 young performers in grades two through five and initiated the start of our youth theater program. 


In the fall of 2006, Ms. Brenda Waffle joined DFT as youth theater director, a position she held until her passing in July of 2008.  In the summer of 2007, Ms. Waffle provided the first DFT summer class which was expanded in 2008 to a two-week camp for students in grades three through eight which was very successful.


In 2008, the youth-focused programs of DFT continued to grow and DFT expanded to having an education program (providing consistent training for interested artists ages 8-adult) and a youth theater performing arm.  By 2012-2013, the education program consisted of a fall session, winter break session, spring session, spring break camp, summer class session and four summer camps.  In 2015, DFT offered winter break camp, spring break camp and six summer camps with 128 young people participating.  DFT also provided fall and spring classes and a multi-week summer drama intensive.


 In the fall of 2009, DFT provided its first fully produced youth theater production and Desert Foothills Youth Theater was “officially” born.  Since then the season has expanded to three youth productions each year offering performance opportunities for more than 100 young people.

DFT’s adult theater has continued to expand as well—adding a fourth adult show to the season allowing for a multi-faceted series that includes a family-friendly musical,  a contemporary or edgy musical, a non-musical comedy and a non-musical drama or mystery.  Each year DFT’s performances draw thousands of attendees and allow hundreds to participate in hands-on theater work. Desert Foothills Youth Theater provides performing opportunities for over 100 young actors and Desert Foothills Theater provides performing opportunities for over 100 adults each season.


DFT has also received many ariZoni Award nominations and awards and Desert Foothills Youth Theater has received numerous ariZoni nominations and National Youth Arts Awards and nominations.

Ann and Carl Nusbaum Circa 1975

Ann and Carl Nussbaum work with an actor in an early DFT production (Circa 1975).

Ann and Carl Nusbaum Circa 1975

The DFT tent being set up for a production.

Ann and Carl Nusbaum Circa 1975

DFT's first production at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center: Oliver! 1989.

Ann and Carl Nusbaum Circa 1975

DFT now: The Music Man! 2011.

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