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

Stacey Gordon: Founder of Puppet Pie, Puppeteer with Die Puppet Die

Stacey Gordon, founder of Puppet Pie and puppeteer, photographed at her Puppet Pie studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Gordon, founder of Puppet Pie and puppeteer with Die Puppet Die, photographed at her Puppet Pie studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Gordon
www.puppetpie.com

Stacey Gordon believes people should never grow up, and that they should always strive to inject imagination, creativity and fun in their lives. What better way to do that than by using puppets? As founder of Puppet Pie in 2006, Gordon creates one-of-a-kind puppet creatures she sells and uses in theater performance, as co-founder of the puppet theater and puppet improv troupe Die Puppet Die. The 37-year-old Phoenix resident has had a love for puppets since a young age and now travels to conventions and festivals around the country spreading her passion for the art form.

You can catch her performing as Claire the sheep in the Settlers of Catan-based web series The Bob & Angus Show, sponsored by the board game company Mayfair Games. The new series starts this Thursday, October 1, and you can view episodes at www.thebobandangusshow.com.

Watch Gordon’s puppets live in action this Friday, October 2, and Saturday, October 3, at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater at 8 p.m. She performs with Die Puppet Die there every first Friday and Saturday of the month, other than summer months.

Kids can take a mask-making workshop with Gordon on Saturday, November 14, in conjunction with the Grand Avenue Festival and Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts — check out www.puppetpie.com for more details.

Gordon, who has made thousands of puppets, has a presence at local arts festivals, and can puppet-ize anything from mirrors to chalkboards, talked about why she has made puppetry her career. You can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video below.

What brought you to Arizona?

My husband got a job down here right after we got married, and we moved here in 2001 from Littleton, Colorado.

I grew up in northern California in a really small town called Ripon. I met my future husband while visiting a friend in Colorado and moved there after high school to go to community college and was going to study education. I ended up going on the Disney College Program in Florida, shadowed the puppetry department there, and decided to skip having student loans and dive straight into puppetry and theater. Continue reading

Jacque Arend: Improviser and Instructor with The Torch Theatre

Jacque Arend, founder of, performer with, and instructor at The Torch Theatre in Phoenix, photographed at Federal Pizza in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Jacque Arend, founder of, performer with, and instructor at The Torch Theatre in Phoenix, photographed at Federal Pizza in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Jacque Arend
www.thetorchtheatre.com

No matter who she is playing on stage, Jacque Arend has a talent for engaging audiences, making viewers feel like they’re a part of her world, no matter how absurd it might be. Arend has been making improv lovers laugh for 10 years in the Valley, and the 35-year-old Phoenix resident is a founder of and instructor at longform improv theater The Torch Theatre.

Besides also doing corporate workshop training through The Torch Theatre, Arend can be seen playing on stage often, as she’s a member of improv troupes Light Rail Pirates, Mail Order Bride, JaxN Reed, MuChuChu, The Foundation, and Hickory Dickory Dock, and performs in regular shows such as The Wedding Party, The Skewed News Hour, and Birds and Broads. You can catch Arend on stage this week as part of the 14th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. She’ll be with Light Rail Pirates Thursday, April 16, and Mail Order Bride Saturday, April 18. For more information and tickets, head to www.phoeniximprovfestival.com.

Read on for what makes Arend so passionate about longform improv, and to hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

When I was in my freshman year in college, I was going to Grand Valley State University for film and video in Michigan. I was on winter break, and my parents came home from a vacation, sat me down, and said, “We have something to tell you.” They told me my dad was taking a job in Arizona and that they were moving within the next couple months.

My mom grew up here, her siblings and parents lived here, and my parents had always wanted to retire here. I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, because I cried and was like, “What, we’re leaving Michigan?”

They asked me what I wanted to do. At the time, I wanted to stay and go to my sophomore year at college, but I made a deal I would move down after that, because I thought, as the youngest, that’s what I needed to do, is be with my parents. I moved out here in 1999 and took classes at Scottsdale Community College, where I had an acting/directing focus and took acting classes through the theater program.

I was born in Harbert, Michigan. 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

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

Bill Binder: The Torch Theatre Improviser

Bill Binder, photographed at The Torch Theatre in Phoenix by Nicki Escudero

Bill Binder, photographed at The Torch Theatre in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Bill Binder
twitter.com/whbinder

Bill Binder is a fixture of the downtown Phoenix arts scene — he even lived in a tree in front of The Trunk Space for a couple days. While you might see him running around town supporting local artists, he’s also responsible for helping foster longform improv in the Valley. As a founding member of The Torch Theatre in Phoenix, Binder has helped put on the Phoenix Improv Festival for the past 11 years of its existence, and he currently is an instructor with The Torch Theatre as well as one who travels around the country teaching improv, in addition to performing in festivals. Learn what brought the Detroit native to Arizona, as well as hear five reasons that are keeping him here, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I moved here in the very beginning of 2001. I was living in Michigan at the time, and I was doing improv there. I loved the people there, but it was kind of at the limit where I could grow as an improviser, so I started looking into moving to some of the more established cities. They’re amazing, but I knew that I would be 1 of 1,000 people who were on the same path. So I looked for a place that really didn’t have any improv, where I kind of would have to fight for what I believed in and build the kind of improv that is what I wanted to do, knowing struggle would be good for me as a performer. Phoenix is one of the cities I looked at and one of the nicest, and my parents also live in Arizona so I could be close to my family. Continue reading