Photo credit Danielle Helms-Phoenix Swords Fire Breather, Tom.

Coming off a show where we do a lot of fire is often big adrenaline high. The one we did recently in FL had a lot of great ingredients-two hams semi-competing for the crowd. An experienced crew and spotters and everyone being “all hands on deck” because we were down two performers due to injuries. (side note: Neither injury was dues to swords or fire and happened outside performance) We had to do a show, we had a great crowd and it was Big Fire.

But talking to others post-show I was reminded of some truisms I think others have forgotten

Just because you think it’s cool doesn’t mean everyone does.  It might be thrill-inducing for you to bring things on fire around your body parts but if you forget about your audience or don’t transmit that energy, it’s rather onanistic and dull

Things on fire are only three times more interesting than normal things. Have you ever watched someone twirling a staff? But if it goes on for more than a minute you’ve pretty much seen what there is to see.  Fire dancing-better be an interesting dancer. I’m not saying you have to be standard or rigid-I have seen interesting dancers that traditional dancers would frown about but they did odd poses or non-synchronous moves that had mystery or were just up there having a good time and invited the audience along. One I know would open with
“Not so much dancing as lumbering and lurching on fire” and did a power-filled set.

Which leads to

If it’s not brilliant, it had better be funny or short.  I admit it we’ve had the “Oh Sh*t” Shows where a dancer twisted something and couldn’t go on or a subcontractor was a no-show last minute or any one of a number of problems.

I hate, hate, the Butt Fairy school of performance design not just because it’s dangerous but it also is brown and smells funny.  But folks I have done what I needed to do including;

Fire Jousting-two long, one-ended staves, mounted two short members on two tall ones and doing passes holding a shield. To our hired musicians’ credit, they knew cues when they saw them (with a heads-up) and made it a good two minutes.

Fire Dancing myself-I basically acted as a distraction while my partners fueled up and came out to the front of the stage and took over –that was perhaps 45 -60 seconds but it let the show be smooth and I didn’t try to grab thunder.

Fire Dancing Two: Grab sparklers and Can-can while others set something up

Fleshing(fire on the body/skin) with jokes: we had traditionally set women’s chests on fire but we had two young men and needed to pad time so yes, we did set chests on fire we are equal opportunity. We also occasionally trotted out “Jose the Human Wick,” who is the most hirsute troupe member we have and is an audience favorite. (No people, it’s the filler!) It smells *terrible* when we finish.

Cool costumes do not make a good show they help, it’s nice to see but JUST LIKE THE SWORDS you need to test your costuming while rehearsing. We have one performer where we joked
“It’s your turn to put out his crotch” because he likes flamboyant (And apparently flammable) scarves.  Given my choice of fire costuming I prefer as much black as possible-I want people to see the fire and soot is a pain to get out of clothing. I’m not here to discourage, I’m just here to state facts.


Because you are fine with fire doesn’t mean others are okay with it. And if you mess this up you give people like me migraines. A friend was MCing for our show, went to see some other shows,  and she came back to the tent somewhat pale-I guess a fire performer was enjoying the audience reaction and was walking into the crowd with lit staves. She would back up, he would move forward, there were no barriers.  No shock here, the fire marshal wanted fire plans from everyone the next year.

Another story-Fire Breather stationed on a stage next to the pony rides. Fortunately, this didn’t end in tears and lawsuits. But we were called in later -we were not the act in question. Our leader, Fenix, was asked to acclimate the horse and ponies to fire by walking calmly in circles past the horses with a lit torch that he waved about in the air. There is quite funny video of this- the troupe looked on and hummed a certain football chant.

Finally, Fire is fun and wonderful. Some people may not think so and I say they can’t come to my bonfire or BBQ (Sorry southern folk…cook out, apologies) I’ve trained A LOT of fire-loving people and pointed them to resources-it doesn’t have to be MY favorite form and I wish them well.

But I want fire to be exactly that, fun, wonderful and interesting,  not scary, perplexing, awful or cringe-inducing. (And yeah, we all have those days) So I’ve shared these thoughts with you.

Bonne flame Y’all!