Big Brain 2012 Finalist: The Torch Theatre

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2012 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 7Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: The Torch Theatre

Photos by Jamie Peachey
Sitting in a meeting of the board members of local longform improv's The Torch Theatre is like being at a tennis match. This group is quick, funny, and has an almost superhuman ability to bounce ideas, comments, and the occasional joke off the others' dangling punctuation marks.  

Given, this is what these people do. They're good.

The board includes members Bill Binder, Jose Gonzalez, 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 to perform on a regular basis.

For Torch, the goal was always 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. While 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 theatre's 30 chairs, and opened the doors.

Torch Theatre_MG_8614.jpg
Photo by Jamie Peachey

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 theatre isn't theirs.

Binder says Torch has always belonged to the community and will hopefully 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 longform improv for a long time," says Gonzales. "It was just nice to find a place to put the walls."

Meet the finalists on April 7 during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia. And check out the other Big Brain Awards finalists we've profiled so far: 

Visual Art: 
Lindz Lew
Andrew Hadle

Jon Ashcroft

Greg Kerr

Performing Art: 

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Jason Howard
Jason Howard

Nice share, glad to see that people are very happy with each other.

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