Trial By Fire – Day 1

While this seems like a very belated post, there were reasons why I didn’t post for awhile. I have been writing and will periodically be posting about my experiences the last two months. It seems only fitting that I post the first writeup on the day of my very first show as a fire performer.

 

DO NOT ATTEMPT ANYTHING I DISCUSS IN THESE BLOGS! I DO NOT ADVISE IT NOR DO I ENCOURAGE IT. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, FIND A MENTOR WITH 7+ YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AND LEARN!

Photo By Dennis Glisson of Glisson Imaging - PDX Click on the picture to get to his facebook page!
Photo By Dennis Glisson of Glisson Imaging – PDX Click on the picture to get to his facebook page!

 

Sunday, April 28, 2013 – Baptism By Fire
Day One

There was an emergency meeting of the fire troupe because one of the members had to drop out of an upcoming show. The show, booked for late June, was already a little light. Five performers tasked to do a 45 minute show. While it sounds like it’s doable, you have to realize that fire props have different burn times and the energy required to pay attention to where the flame is can affect the ability to perform. Also? Fire props are heavy, yo. You are holding tools that you don’t use in every day life and you are also adding the danger of white gas into the mix.

So when the fifth dropped out, it left four performers to cover 45 minutes worth of entertaining. While doable, it would run them ragged. So we gathered at Rigg’s house to discuss possibilities.

When the meeting started, we just started throwing out names of people that were ready to see if they would be able to make it. Unfortunately each name came with a sigh. Ffin had another event he had committed to. Bevin would still be in Boston, Massachussetts. Dan couldn’t afford the insurance for the performance and he wasn’t able to get the time off of work.

The list got shorter and shorter until everyone looked to Puppy and she laughed. “You know that when you look at the head safety and say ‘well… what do you have’ that we’re boned.” Luckily, that was a bit of an ice breaker and we laughed.

Boulron pulled up the set list and we got a text confirming that Fezzik would be willing to do a couple of sets. Before setting to carving out the set list and building into it, we talked about the possible safeties we would have at the event. After it was listed that we would have at least four, there was a general consensus that three would suffice and Puppy was added to follow the opening act with a poi set. I could see her nervousness in the slight twitching of her hand, but she solemnly nodded as her name was merged into the roster.

Then Boulron said that he would be comfortable with me doing my rings set in the beginning as it wouldn’t be the most spectacular thing at the moment. It didn’t bother me as… well… He’s right. I’m very new to the entire process and because I wouldn’t have to wow the crowd, it would eat up a little bit of time and my prop is a novelty.

Not many people have seen fire rings. They are essentially two rings that are 12 inches in diameter with three prongs of wicking gathered close. On the opposite section of the ring are the handles that allow you to both grip and spin with accuracy (after spending a LOT of time practicing it). It is a very fluid prop and even if I just windmilled my arms around it would still be considered impressive.

I nodded as my name was added to the list. Immediately a thousand song choices ran through my head. What did I want to convey with the rings for that set? I continued to sit and quietly ponder the situation when the intermission was brought up.

The intermission is a mixture of both fire eating and fleshing. The act of fleshing is drawing a trail of white gas along your skin, igniting it, and then blowing it out. Fire eating, I hope, is self explanatory. You put fire in your mouth and remove the extinguished torch.

They determined that only Gage and Fred would be there for the intermission. Somehow I mutely observed as Boulron looked over to me and said “yeah, you can learn that fast” and added my name to the list. It is very possible that I had stepped out of my own body for a second and saw me nodding an affirmative.

Uh… I had never really expressed a lot of interest in fire eating and breathing. I don’t mind fleshing. I had experienced it with a different fuel before, so it would be something I would have to get used to. I’d have to get used to it fast.

After this revelation, everyone pretty much started sounding like adults in a Peanuts cartoon. I didn’t really care what was being said because I knew that I needed to work on my rings and… apparently… learn fire eating and fleshing in less than 60 days. There was a humming in my head before I realized that it was the hum in the room of people breaking off and having separate conversations.

Finally, Boulron cleared his throat and started to read off the setlist. He said my name with rings and included me in the listing for intermission and then caught my attention when he said that he had added me towards the end with a palm torch act. Wait… what? I didn’t remember that being decided on.

He told me that he’s seen me move and the palm torches would be an easier set but I’d be stronger with my dance background to keep the audience amped. It was a bit of an ego boost, but also quite daunting. Could I keep the audience rapt with attention towards the end of the performance? With the way my sets were scheduled, would I be able to act as a safety at any point?

Fred then suggested that the two weeks before the show be “hell weeks”. For those reading that don’t know, a hell week is when you run through the full performance as if you are performing for an audience. Boulron, Riggs, Puppy, Gage and I agreed – even though I knew my hell weeks would start immediately.

The meeting ended, but we didn’t leave right away. We went outside so that Puppy could work with the poi that Riggs had. Poi vary in shape, size, and length, but it is essentially wicking attached to chain. There are loops on the opposite side of the wicking to allow a safe enough grip to prevent them from flying out at a member of the audience. We spent a little bit of time playing music to see what type of speed Puppy was looking for to compliment her performance. During that time I stretched and extended my arms before digging back into my brain to access my dance training.

When I say I had dance training, I mean that I danced from three years old to eleven. In highschool, the dance that I ended up doing was during the summer at showchoir camp. While it helped to inform me as to how to move and follow choreography, it was never about free form dancing. With fire performance, the majority of each set is improvised by most of the troupe. Yes, there are things that people make note of, like “okay this build would be amazing to let out a short blast of fire from my mouth” or “I’m going to toss this flaming baton into the air at this segment of the song”.

The idea of free forming the entire set terrified me. I mean, I didn’t have a problem with a little bit of improvisation, but I knew that I was going to have to pick a song very quickly so I could practice over and over with my unlit props.

Instead, I just kept moving and following the music when Fred said “Are you seriously gonna be another Bevin?” I looked over at him quizzically. “You already have the skill, we’re just adding fire. Seriously. Whenever I look over at you, you’re doing something I’ve never seen you do before. Is there anything you can’t do?”

I grinned and replied “fly” before continuing to move. It was an extremely sweet and lovely compliment and I never know how to take a compliment with a genuine thanks. I AM thankful, it’s just not something that I anticipate from others.

I left the meeting that night, dropped off Fred, and then drove home shaking.

While I had already been accepted as an apprentice, there was not a sense of urgency for training. There wasn’t a deadline. Now there was.

Hell, I learned Lady Capulet’s lines in 24 hours. At least I was given eight weeks to train for fire performance. I knew I could do it, but I couldn’t stop shaking.

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