KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

History of Cave Creek comes alive in new play from 'Living Library' project

For the past year and a half, Desert Foothills Library in Cave Creek has been working with the Arizona Memory Project and other partners on a "Living Library.” The program is dedicated to preserving the history of the towns of Cave Creek and Carefree. 

The official kick off is this weekend, with a staged reading of a new play titled “Looking Back.”

It’s a Saturday rehearsal, and the first run-through of “Looking Back.” There are eight actors, some playing multiple roles. And the story is based on real Arizonans using archived letters from the Cave Creek Museum, among other records, as its foundation. 

In 1950, married couple Dick and Evie Engel purchased Cow Track Ranch, about 45 minutes north of downtown Phoenix. Located in what is now Carefree, the couple drew criticism for subdividing the land into what is now known as Cow Track estates.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to see a letter from Dick Engel.

Playwright Andrea Markowitz says the play unveils hidden histories, but the controversies are familiar.

“We’re still going through the same issues that Phoenix was going through in the 1950s as far as development vs. open space, water issues, drought, expansion and annexation, population growth," Markowitz said.

Markowitz directs and acts in the play, performing as the disgruntled neighbor who despises the idea of Dick and Evie considering subdivision.

The inspiration for this play goes beyond the museum letters. Markowitz previously lived in Cave Creek but now calls Carefree home. When she heard of the local library’s idea to collect oral histories from the towns residents, she saw a real opportunity.

“It’s called the Living Library program, and they were going to focus on oral histories and combine the resources from the Cave Creek Museum and new recordings that would be conducted by both the museum and Desert Foothills Library," Markowitz said.

The library’s executive director, Debra Lay, says the program stems from a $4,000 grant awarded in May 2022. And together with a variety of partners and volunteers, including Desert Foothills Theater, the program officially debuts Friday, Nov. 17. This is where the library will present its first of three showings of "Looking Back."

"What we were really in search of were the memories of those in Cave Creek and the surrounding area, how they came here, what happened when they were here years ago and how has the land been transformed, how have they been transformed," Lay said.

The Living Library program also features art installations and oral histories documented on the Arizona Memory project website, all accessible at Desert Foothills Library.

The play seems to have piqued residents’ interest. “Looking Back” was nearly sold out as of this recording.

The two actors playing Dick and Evie Engel are a married couple who live in Cow Track Estates — the modern day setting of the play. Peter Strupp plays Dick.

“We always knew that where we lived was a special place, with gorgeous views and amazing sunsets, but this play has given us the opportunity to understand the people who are behind that property and who made the faithful decision to subdivide it. So, they lost exclusive use of their land but we gained a beautiful home to live in these past decades," Strupp said.

Proceeds for this weekend’s shows will go to the library as well as the theater. There is also a separate experience on Saturday where patrons can mingle with Markowitz and the cast.

If you go

"Looking Back" at Desert Foothills Library. 2 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 17-19. 38443 N. Schoolhouse Road, Cave Creek. Tickets start at $25. dfla.org, 480-488-2286.

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.