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The two have loosely decorated the huge space's walls with local artwork and display cases full of old-school boom boxes, high-top sneakers, spray paint cans, and awards given to the Furious Styles Crew. "Most of this stuff came from my house," says Magana. "But it kind of fits here."
Plans for the spot include forming a dance crew of its own, a space for skaters, a recording studio, and a hostel-like area in the back for visiting dancers to stay. "We obviously have a ton of ideas and a lot of dreams," Magana says. "We kept asking ourselves, 'What if?' . . . This place is the 'What if?'" — Claire Lawton
Sitting in a meeting of the board members of local long-form improv's Torch Theatre is like being at a tennis match. This group is quick and funny, with an almost superhuman ability to bounce ideas, comments, and the occasional joke off one another's dangling punctuation marks.
The board includes members Bill Binder, Jose Gonzalez (a regular New Times contributor), Jacque Arend, Sam Haldiman, Nina Miller, Mack Duncan, Shane Shannon, and Tommy Schaeffer. There's no one leader or head decision-maker — the group formed in 2007 when local performance troupes Apollo 12, Galapagos, Remainders, Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates, Phoenix Neutrino Project, and Dangerville came together under one umbrella to offer classes and workshops for the community and perform on a regular basis.
For Torch, the goal always was to find a home. They describe themselves as a bunch of nomads who moved freely from downtown's Space 55 and Trunk Space to a public meeting room in the library.
They continued to improve as a group and developed specific curricula for their classes. Though a crew of them continued to teach classes and develop regular shows, Binder made a weekly commute to study improv at iO, a theater in Los Angeles, and Haldiman spent a summer studying in Chicago.
In 2010, the group found an old barber shop on Central Avenue. They remember cleaning out the hair and repainting the walls. They raised money, kept each other sane and motivated, and worked through a slew of paperwork delays from the city. A year later, in July 2011, they did one last sweep, set up the theater's 30 chairs, and opened the doors.
Since, the board has seen a few graduating classes, countless performances, and a wedding. The eight members have done some custom decorating, made a cozy green room in the back of the building, and established a solid weekly schedule of performances. They've also introduced new levels of instruction, and they organize the annual Phoenix Improv Festival (scheduled for late April).
Still, they insist, the theater isn't theirs.
Binder says the theater has always belonged to the community and, hopefully, will continue to be a place where local actors and improv fans can find a new passion and take some pointers from others.
"We've had the idea of establishing a home for long-form improv for a long time," says Gonzales. "It was just nice to find a place to put the walls." — Claire Lawton
Long before Jon Ashcroft moved to Phoenix, landed a gig at Fender, and then quit to do design work for a regional church, he created event fliers for his friends' bands in high school.
The 27-year-old designer grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After high school, he enrolled at New Mexico State University. He thought he'd study business. A few classes in, he was miserable.
He liked his art history class, so he switched to the school's photography and design program, where he says he developed an eye for clean lines and good composition — two elements that are at the core of everything he designs now.
There's no denying Ashcroft is talented — and hardworking. He says his experience at Fender was unbelievable (on the back of every 60th Anniversary Telecaster guitar, you'll find a metal plate with Ashcroft's simple, clean design), but that there was a glass ceiling of sorts, so he took a full-time gig at the church he and his wife attend. The flexibility gives him time to freelance (he illustrated three pieces for the Atlantic last year) and the freedom to orchestrate a brand for a growing community.
He talks about his upcoming projects while flipping through a flat file of his own work and posters he's been collecting. He's passionate about giving a good name (and lending some great design) to Phoenix, which he says was often referred to as a cow town in the design world before the community came together several years ago to take part in Phoenix Design Week.
In April, Ashcroft — along with Dorina Bustamante, Jonce Walker, Jeremy Stapleton, and Nicole Underwood — will host the first PEDAL CRAFT PHX, which aims to unite the design and urban cycling communities with a bicycle-themed, locally designed poster exhibition and a showcase of unique bike racks.
He'll also be doing a little rebranding for himself (the fact that there's a political figure with the same name hasn't done Jon Ashcroft's website any favors, even with a different spelling of the first name) and getting back into doing more freelance jobs. And for now, he promises, he's definitely sticking around. — Claire Lawton