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Ignite Phoenix 16 Transformed Sonder into Storytelling

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"Sonder" is the realization that each random person you unknowingly pass throughout your day is living a life as vivid and as complex as your own. This idea, introduced to audiences Friday, May 2, at Ignite Phoenix 16 by founder Jeff Moriarty, set the tone for the night. It also reminded audiences that the story sharing event, in which 17 performers are given five minutes and 20 slides to tell something about themselves that passerby might never guess, needed participation from both people on stage and in seats.

If there was an electricity in the auditorium, it wasn't only felt by performers.

See also: Moshe Kasher on Being Offensive and Phoenix's "True Heroes"

The event was held at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and offered guests drinks, live bands, food trucks, a funky photo booth, and tables where they could continue conversations with the presenters after the show. Attendees were encouraged to tweet throughout the evening using #ignitePhx, and their thoughts were broadcast during intermission.

One of the first performers, Richard Ross, in his talk, "Christchurch: How I Learned to Love the Quake or: A Model for Lot Activation and Adaptive Reuse in Phoenix," reflected on his experiences in creatively rebuilding a post-earthquake community in Christchurch, New Zealand. He proposes what some of those creative solutions could mean for our Phoenix community today.

"Approximately 43 percent of all Phoenix lots are vacant," Ross said. "What if we could activate them and transform them into community hubs?"

Ross proposed numerous ideas for future Phoenix events, and stressed the importance of the idea that "without community, a city is just a bunch of bricks."

In "Magenta in the Key of G Major," Rachelle Olsen-Veal detailed her synesthesia, a disorder -- or as Olsen-Veal calls it, an "enhancement" -- that allows her to hear music as colors or to picture time as distinct directions. She used the stage to celebrate her uniqueness almost poetically, and challenged the audience to let their freak flags fly just as high.

Tom Bishop, in his talk "Confessions of a Wounded Warrior: 9 Toes, 2 Purple Hearts, And Zero Regrets," told the audience about his time spent serving in the Iraq war, and how much it has made him appreciate life. Bishop, who lost a toe after nearly missing a nearby explosion, said that the concept of "being broken" made him want to be normal guy. He received a standing ovation.

The sixth presentation of the night, called "Dinosaurs aren't just for 5 year olds: How I turned my obsession into a convention," by Phoenix Dino Con founder Julia Zolondz left the audience giddy.

Zolondz, decked out in a dinosaur sweatshirt, talked about her once extreme fear of the extinct predators. After deciding she was sick of being ridiculed for being afraid of non-existent beings, she forced herself to watch each of the Jurassic Park films back-to-back in one night. In doing this and beginning research into the fascinating creatures, Zolondz came to understand dinosaurs to be truly awesome.

"If I was a tyrannosaurus and my boss was micro-managing me," says Zolondz, "I would devour him."

After sharing her obsession in what was surely a crowd favorite performance, Zolondz told us she was surprised by the love she received from the Ignite Phoenix audience.

"I didn't realize that it was going to resonate with them so much," she said. "Performing tonight meant a real connection with total strangers."

Indeed, each of the stories told in this sixteenth edition of Ignite Phoenix reiterated the notion that it's never too late--or too crazy--to find, build, or create your unique place in the world.

If the audience's tweets from the night say anything, it's that the enthusiasm Zolondz and the rest of the presenters exhibited re-awakened the passions of all present. More importantly, it inspired them to share their own stories confidently and courageously.

"I hope people face that fear," said Zolondz. "Don't wait your whole life. Just do it. Get it over with. You might love it."

Submissions for Ignite Phoenix 17, to be held May 2015, are now open. Ignite Phoenix will also host a racier sister event, Ignite Phoenix After Hours, this September.

Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.

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