Monsters, pinball and improv: 3 ways to find your niche in metro Phoenix

PEORIA – From July 2017 through June 2018, more than 200 people moved to Maricopa County every day, in search of sun, plentiful jobs and a lower cost of living. But in a metro area of 4.4 million, how do transplants, particularly those who relocate without family, find a sense of community?

Here’s a glimpse at three groups that welcome newcomers.

Monster Rangers

Daniel and Dawna Davis did not imagine their monster-themed art and stories would go much beyond selling at conventions, but 14 years later, their work has taken on a life of its own and inspired groups and gatherings across the West.

Monster Rangers began as one of Daniel’s stories about a farmer who creates the rangers after his scarecrow, Marrow Thatch, tells him about a hidden world of monsters who need protection.

Launched at Phoenix Fan Fest in November 2014, the story was a hit among other monster-lovers. At later conventions, people began showing up dressed as characters from the story at the Peoria couple’s booth, buying Monster Ranger books, shirts, art and other merch.

The two began hosting themed get-togethers and, at the request of members, campouts with a small group in Phoenix, which has since expanded to more than 40 members. Monster Rangers have spawned in six other states, including groups in Los Angeles, San Diego and Houston.

Although they want to grow their brand, Daniel and Dawna hope that the community maintains its unique culture in the process.

Phoenix pinball

When you watch Adam Horton on Tuesday nights at Tilt Studio at Arizona Mills in Tempe, he’s in his element. He’s drinking beers, laughing with friends and playing pinball.

But go back a few years, and Horton says you would see a different man, an introvert who, by his own admission, did not have much of a social life.

The Arizona pinball community has brought out the positive, social and energetic Adam Horton. He now has a group of friends who share his passion, one that he also also share with his daughter.

“I was ecstatic because I didn’t think anything like this existed,” Horton said. “When I found out this fell on a night I didn’t have to work, I just jumped all in it.”

Although it may seem like a simple row of arcade games at a mall, pinball has created a place where anyone can be themselves in a large city like Phoenix.

Franklin Institute – The Torch Theatre

The Torch Theatre is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. And even if you are looking for it, you may have to circle back a time or two.

This small building in a strip mall off Central Avenue near Camelback Road in Phoenix is home to numerous improv comedy groups and hosts a variety of shows weekly. The members of the Franklin Institute, one of Torch’s newer groups, talked about what pushed them to try improv, and what that little bit of stage time has brought to their lives.

“I think overall the environment is welcoming of people of all different shapes and sizes, and I know we’re always trying to improve that at our theater,” said Meredith Dylan Howell, coach of the improv institute.

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