Ignite Phoenix 15, the latest installment in the biannual lecture series, took to the stage at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night, as 18 Valley residents shared stories in front of what has come to be an expectedly packed house. The two-hour production allots speakers five minutes and 20 slides each, and the rules end there.
Past Ignite nights have played host to an array of topics: stories of spending 24 hours in a Walmart, rundowns of badass female role models, and conversations titled "The Art of Talking to Strangers."
Friday night was no exception, bouncing from space exploration to yeast to bow ties to ninjas in under 40 minutes -- and that was just the first half. Some gave us pause, while others prompted follow-up conversations on car rides homes. Here are five of our favorites.
Best Use of Social Media Twitter is a place to connect with community, both in the broad scheme and small spectrum. From co-workers to city leaders to celebrities, nearly everyone who's anyone is on Twitter. Through retweets and replies we make and maintain connections with followers and friends alike. These kinds of interactions are viewed not only as legitimate conversations, but opportunities. Even Ignite Phoenix encourages audience members to Tweet and Instagram during lectures, while it's commonplace for presenters to update their feeds from backstage. Kelly Haskins is one of those presenters, whose own engagement on social media with a group of NASA nerds found her in a seat at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on the eve of a real-life launch. Her community-driven story helped kick off a night of otherworldly inspiration. "My online community got my closer to my dreams," she said. And to the stars.
Best How-To Demonstration Aaron Kimberlin can tie a bow tie -- properly, and, dare we say, dapperly -- in 15 seconds. Seriously, we saw it. Dressed in the hipster uniform of double-cuffed dark denim jeans, a vest, and Vans, Kimberlin led us through the motions, showed us slides of the tie's different varieties (with adorable animal-inspired monikers like "bat wing" and "butterfly"), and proved that gone are the days of belonging solely to Groucho Marx or Teddy Roosevelt. Bow ties have now been re-appropriated, adorning bearded twenty-somethings who wear them on bike rides and use them to catch missed swigs of craft beer. Kimberlin refrained from relying on the stereotypical too heavily. Instead, his presentation aimed for a feeling of the grandiose like the tie itself, comparing the types of bow tie wearers to the greater Phoenix community, and giving a shout out to the local suppliers of old -- Hanny's, to be exact -- which elicits a certain feeling of sophistication and style, then and now.
Best Test of a Relationship We applaud Clay Richardson's wife, maybe even more than we applauded him Friday night. Not many wives would stand by, supportive at that, while their husbands took over the backyard to build a wood fired pizza oven. A true testament to Chris Bianco's creations at Downtown's Pizzeria Bianco, Richardson was so won over by wood fired pizza that he built his own oven. From scratch. By himself. The handiwork was impressive enough, as his slides offered a glimpse into the step-by-step process, from collecting "fire bricks" to his first success: a bacon-wrapped filet mignon -- cooked to perfection in mere minutes. But it was his ease at storytelling and subtle pop culture references (a mention of the failed Bluth family cornballer invention from Arrested Development comes to mind) that won us over. That, and the fact that he could invite us into his home for a possible James Beard-worthy backyard pizza.
Best Ballsy and Heartbreaking, Simultaneously It took 15 five-minute rounds for a story of immigration and education, arguably two of Arizona's most defining topics, to take the stage. Luckily, Bibi Vazquez's account of her experience as an undocumented immigrant was well worth the wait. Vazquez was brought to the United States by her parents when she was just eight months old and dove into the life of an overachiever, recalling years of getting good grades, participating in clubs and playing sports, as pictures of tennis uniforms and graduation robes filled the screen behind her. Then came the crushing realization: not only would Vazquez never be able to get her driver's license, a right-of-passage for every sixteen-year-old, but she would never be admitted to college, allowed to continue her education. "Please, help me," she remembered begging her adviser. "I'm so sorry," she was told, "there's literally nothing I can do." Today, thanks to the DREAM Act, Vazquez has an opportunity to pursue her education, and dreams of becoming a teacher. As she left the stage poised, perfectly hair sprayed hair still intact, it's safe to say she received the loudest applause of the night.
Best Thing You May Have Already Done (And Still Can Do) The advent of the Internet saw couchsurfing transform from a means of traveling to a website. Couchsurfing.org is home to six million unique members -- one of whom is Liesl Pimentel. Like many travelers, Pimentel saw the site as an opportunity for adventure and to broaden her sense of community. A first-timer, she chose to travel to a place as far away as she could, while still speaking the language: Australia. There she stayed with a middle-aged naturist named Frank, whose mercifully PG picture played as Pimentel took to the stage in all her enthusiasm. Through it, her conversation about couchsurfing became a conversation about trust. Though Pimentel's story was not terribly uncommon or even particularly interesting, it was a prime example of the point of every Ignite: the implantation of an idea in someone's head, or the inspiration to grow a seed already rooted there.
Which means, in a live audience of a few hundred individuals, it's not unfounded to assume someone went home Friday night and signed up for the website, or reconsidered their approach to adventure, and is now starting a project we'll hear about at the next Ignite.
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Looking for a dose of inspiration or have your own story to share? Ignite Phoenix 16 returns to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets don't go on sale until April, but submissions are already open.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version to reflect that Kelly Haskins was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, not at Johnson Space Center in Houston.