Ashley Naftule: Actor, Improviser and Theater Performance Organizer

Ashley Naftule, actor, improviser and theater performance organizer, photographed at Desoto Central Market in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Ashley Naftule, actor, improviser and theater performance organizer, photographed at Desoto Central Market in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero


Ashley Naftule
www.ashleynaftule.com

For followers of the Phoenix community theater scene, Ashley Naftule is a constant fixture, whether he’s organizing shows like 7 Minutes in Heaven at Space 55, performing characters such as professional arm wrestler Thunderbolt Tsunami on stage, or presenting short plays he has written at events such as Phoenix Fringe. The 32-year-old Scottsdale resident constantly comes up with creative personalities and ideas for the stage to keep audiences entertained, and you can catch him next this Thursday, December 3, when he’ll be performing at the PEP (Phoenix Educational Programming) Rally variety show at Lawn Gnome Publishing in Phoenix. The show kicks off at 8 p.m., and this week’s theme spotlights vignettes about the occult.

Naftule, who works as a copywriter for marketing agency Loud Rumor during the day, is the “Czar of Limited Engagements” at Space 55, where he runs special events at the theater. He shared why he’s so passionate about the stage and the local theater scene, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here. My whole family is from France. My mom is from Algeria, and my dad is from Switzerland, and they moved to the States around 40 years ago and drifted here.

I was born in Phoenix, went to Horizon High School, and went to ASU for a few years. Continue reading

Kathleen Berger: Singer, Musical Theater Actor and Teacher

Kathleen Berger, singer, musical theater actor and teacher, photographed at her home in Litchfield Park, Arizona, by Nicki Escudero

Kathleen Berger, singer, musical theater actor and teacher, photographed at her home in Litchfield Park, Arizona, by Nicki Escudero

Kathleen Berger
www.kathleenberger.com

Kathleen Berger knows how to hit the high notes. The classically trained singer, who has had extensive experience singing opera in Europe, can be seen often on local theater stages as a musical theater performer. The 43-year-old Litchfield Park resident comes from a musical family and continues to carry on the legacy, as a performer, teacher and artist manager.

Catch her playing the Queen in Southwest Shakespeare Company‘s SpellBound! beginning May 7, and see her in The Joy of Sextets at Desert Foothills Theater beginning May 29.

Berger shares what fuels her passion for singing, as well as shares some tips, and you can watch her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I grew up here. I was born at Maryvale Hospital and grew up in Litchfield Park. I went to Agua Fria High School, then to ASU, where I majored in vocal performance and minored in French. I finished my degree at University of Missouri—Kansas City.

After that, I moved to New York for 10 years, and in 2006, I got an offer to sing on a tour of La Traviata in Madrid, Spain. I took it, I learned the role in two weeks, got on a plane, and went to Spain without speaking a word of Spanish. I spent seven weeks on the tour and decided I wasn’t going back to the United States, so I deliberately missed my plane and stayed in Spain for seven years.

I met my husband there, and when the economy collapsed in 2013, we decided to try moving to Arizona so my family could meet my husband, and so we could make a living instead of being in a country with 25 percent unemployment. We’ve been back ever since. Continue reading

Hector Coris: Actor with Scottsdale Musical Theater Company

Hector Coris
facebook.com/ScottsdaleMusicalTheater

Hector Coris loves inhabiting different characters and bringing them to life on stage. In the past four years, the Phoenix resident has performed in more than dozen local theater productions, having caught the theater bug back in college in New York before bringing his talents to the Valley. He’s gearing up to next star in Scottsdale Musical Theater Company‘s The Producers, at Tempe Center for the Arts Wednesday, December 31, Friday, January 2 and Saturday, January 3. The New Year’s Eve show also features a post-show gala.

Coris, who works at ReachOut Healthcare America in Phoenix, also is the associate producer for Scottsdale Musical Theater Company, as well as works in marketing and publicity. He talked about why he’s so passionate about local theater and what he’s looking forward to about starring in The Producers. Continue reading to watch a video of Coris name his favorite parts about living in the Valley, too.

What brought you to Arizona?

I grew up in New York. I did a show here in March of 2009 for two weeks at the Mesa Arts Center, and I loved being here in March because it’s perfect weather. When I went back to New York, I got laid off from my job, so my partner and I were looking for a change. We decided to move to Phoenix. Continue reading

Marcelo Dietrich: Filmmaker, Writer/Director of ‘The Horologist.’

Marcelo Dietrich
twitter.com/MarceloDietrich

Marcelo Dietrich loves telling stories, teaching, and inspiring, and he does it all through movies, as a screenwriter, director and actor.

The 37-year-old Chandler resident recently released a documentary on a talented 16-year-old dancer with Asperger syndrome, in partnership with Dancers and Health Together, Inc., called Dance Your Asperger’s Off. The touching documentary brings awareness to what it’s like to have Asperger’s, and how art such as dance can positively affect someone with special needs.

This Saturday, June 14, he premieres a short film, The Horologist., as an Official Selection at the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival. The film is a condensed version of the first act of a feature-length screenplay of the same name, and Dietrich hopes the short film can be used to get funding for the feature-length.

Dance Your Asperger’s Off is also at the fest on Saturday, June 14. Find more information about the film festival here, and keep reading to see what drives Dietrich, who has written, produced or directed more than a dozen films and documentaries. Keep scrolling to see him talk about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents moved here from Thermal, California when I was 3 years old, and I grew up in Tempe. Continue reading

Stacey Reed Hanlon: The Torch Theatre Improviser, Actor

Stacey Reed Hanlon, The Torch Theatre improviser and actor, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Reed Hanlon, The Torch Theatre improviser and actor, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Reed Hanlon
twitter.com/TheTorchTheatre

Stacey Reed Hanlon is one of the Valley’s funniest performers. As a veteran actress who got her improvising start in New York City, Reed has brought her natural knack for creating zany characters with strong personalities to Phoenix, helping found the Valley’s longform improv theater The Torch Theatre.

Reed Hanlon, a 37-year-old Phoenix resident and client specialist at Standard Printing Company, has been performing improv in the Valley for almost 10 years, in notable troupes such as Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates, JaxN Reed, and The Foundation. She’s also an instructor at Valley Youth Theatre and The Torch Theatre, and does private musical theater coaching and improv troupe coaching. The talented improviser also has serious acting chops, having taken the stage for memorable gems such as A Bloody Mary Christmas at Space 55.

You can catch Reed Hanlon on stage with Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates and JaxN Reed at the 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival, taking place this Thursday, April 17 through Saturday, April 19, at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. Read on what drives her passion for theater, as well as to watch her talk about her favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m originally from Clinton, Ohio and went to college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study English and French. I had always wanted to live in New York, and I moved there after college and worked in public relations for about seven years.

I met my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, whose parents had retired here. He moved here to be closer to family and really enjoyed the change of pace. I went through some professional changes in New York, and I missed him, so I decided to give Arizona a try and come out for a year, back in 2005. Here I am nine years later. I never would have thought I’d be living in Phoenix, and I never thought I would move across the country for a boy! Continue reading

Brandy Hotchner: Artistic Director of Arizona Actors Academy

Brandy Hotchner, artistic director of Arizona Actors Academy and resident instructor at Phoenix Theatre, photographed at Phoenix Theatre, by Nicki Escudero

Brandy Hotchner, artistic director of Arizona Actors Academy and resident instructor at Phoenix Theatre, photographed at Phoenix Theatre, by Nicki Escudero

Brandy Hotchner
twitter.com/azactorsacademy

If you’re looking for a serious career in acting, taking a class by Brandy Hotchner is a great start. The 42-year-old Scottsdale resident and Denver native is a resident instructor at Phoenix Theatre and the artistic director for Arizona Actors Academy, which offers method acting, master acting, on-camera, Shakespeare, teen and improvisation classes to locals. Hotchner’s had the acting bug since she was a little kid and has extensive experience, including time in New York City.

Hotchner is passionate about improving the Arizona arts scene and talked about what the public can do to help. Read on to hear her talk about her five favorite reasons for loving living in Arizona, too.

What brought you to Arizona?

I came here from New York in 2002. I had been there more than a decade and had all the ups and downs of an acting and directing career out there.

September 11th (2001) was a very personally traumatic event for me, and after about a year, the city just didn’t feel like home for me anymore. Many of my friends and colleagues had moved to L.A. and were loving the beach and seemed to be pursuing a career with a little less strife. I left New York to go to L.A., and my family was here, so I stopped here along the way to regroup. That first week here, I met who would become my now-husband. Within a year, I was married and had my first baby, and here I am. Continue reading

Shawna Franks: Founder and Artistic Director of Space 55 Theatre

Shawna Franks, founder and artistic director of Space 55 Theatre, photographed at Space 55, by Nicki Escudero

Shawna Franks, founder and artistic director of Space 55 Theatre, photographed at Space 55, by Nicki Escudero

Shawna Franks
twitter.com/Space55

Shawna Franks has helped the downtown Phoenix theater writers’ community grow immensely, as founder and artistic director at Space 55 Theatre, which hosts theater performances, as well as writing classes and workshops. The Phoenix resident and her team opened the theater in 2006, and since it’s become a haven for new, cutting-edge works that have never been seen in Arizona. Franks, a veteran stage and film actress, also teaches acting at the Arizona School for the Arts. She helped create the hilarious character of Blanche in the current holiday musical A Bloody Mary Christmas, playing through Saturday, December 21. Read on for what drives Franks’ desire to boost the local theater community, as well as to hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born in Santa Cruz, California and moved to Chicago at the age of 17. Chicago is where I went to school and started acting. I also performed in Europe, then I moved to Los Angeles for a little while. After my two sons were born, I moved to Phoenix because of a job opportunity for my husband. Continue reading

Danielle Kamela: Fox Sports Arizona Girl


Danielle Kamela
twitter.com/DanielleKamela

If you love Arizona sports, you’ve probably seen Danielle Kamela on the court, field or screen. She’s danced for the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns and is now a Fox Sports Arizona Girl, connecting the fans to all four major Arizona teams through social media updates and charity work. The 25-year-old Scottsdale resident and native can also be seen in local commercials and print ads, as she is also an actor and model represented by The Agency Arizona. Catch her on Fox Sports Arizona, and keep scrolling to hear five reasons why she’s glad to say she’s Arizona born and raised.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m proud to say I’m a native. I was born and raised here in Scottsdale and went to Chaparral High School, then to Arizona State University. At ASU, I majored in communications and tourism. Aside from my love and passion for sports, I love to travel and enjoy experiencing new places and learning about different cultures. It was great to be able to combine my interests in communications and broadcasting and travel here in my hometown. Continue reading

Jef Rawls: Jester’Z Owner, Actor

Jef Rawls, Jester'Z owner and actor, photographed at Jester'Z in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Jef Rawls, Jester’Z owner and actor, photographed at Jester’Z in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Jef Rawls
twitter.com/JesterZImprov

Jef Rawls helped create one of the Valley’s longest-running comedy theaters, Jester’Z in Scottsdale, which he co-owns with his wife, Shurlin Rawls. For more than 12 years, Jester’Z improv has been entertaining audiences in their 135-person theater (which they often sell out), as well as in corporate trainings around the country. Rawls, a 39-year-old Mesa resident who attended Thunderbird High School, also teaches more than 200 students throughout the year in courses such as musical improv and teen classes, as well as directs the Jester’Z troupe, which includes almost 20 members. Read on for how he’s become one of the Valley’s most successful comedy business owners, as well as to hear five reasons why he loves calling Arizona home.

What brought you to Arizona?

My mother’s womb. I’m a Phoenix native, but I’ve lived everywhere from Hawaii and California, to Washington and Utah, to Colorado and Washington, D.C. This is where my heart is and where I call home. I’ve been back in Arizona since ’94. Continue reading

Philip Haldiman: ‘The Room’ Star

Philip Haldiman, 'The Room' star and 'The Arizona Republic' reporter, photographed at Sidebar in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Philip Haldiman, ‘The Room’ star, photographed at SideBar in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Philip Haldiman
http://twitter.com/PhilipHaldiman

As someone who always dreamed of making an impact on people through movie acting, Philip Haldiman has certainly achieved his goal — though not quite in the way he envisioned. As a star of what’s been called the worst movie ever made, The Room, the 35-year-old Phoenix native will forever be remembered for his character, Denny, a man child who couldn’t figure out social graces. The Room was released in 2003, and since, it’s been shown hundreds of times all over the world and has gained a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style cult following, where audiences shout things out in theaters and throw plastic spoons as a homage to one of the many weird scenes in the odd and bizarre film with no clear plot. Haldiman chronicled his journey as a struggling actor in Los Angeles in his new comic book series, My Big Break, which he’ll be signing at a release party this Saturday, February 23 at FilmBar in Phoenix at 9 p.m. Keep reading to learn more about the story behind Denny and The Room, and scroll down to hear five reasons why Haldiman loves living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born here in Phoenix. I have lived in a few other places throughout my youth and as an adult, but, hey, I guess I can’t stay away. Continue reading