Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Acrobats from San Francisco's Flyaway Productions rehearse aerial moves on a chandelier that will spout flames during their Fire Arts Festival performance.
OAKLAND, California -- While crews battle wildfires across California, performers at the Fire Arts Festival are embracing flames as they prep for a weekend of pyrotechnics.
"Do they shut down Water World when there's a flood?" said Michael Sturtz, founder of The Crucible, the nonprofit collective that has hosted the annual event since 1999. "Of course, what's happening is unfortunate, but we're harnessing fire to make a creative spectacle."
Industrial sculptors, mechanical engineers, flying trapeze artists -- and, of course, fire-safety officials -- are busy preparing for this year's Fire Arts Festival, which features large-scale art installations and acts like some of the more fiery performances at DIY-heavy Maker Faire and the annual desert art party known as Burning Man.
More than 50 different flame-fueled installations by artists from the Bay Area, Seattle and elsewhere will burn through at least 4,000 gallons of propane at this year's festival, said Sturtz.
The event boasts an entirely new roster of performers and exhibits, he said, including a hydrogen-powered flame sculpture, a massive inverted Tesla coil, fiery Flamenco dancers and a shooting gallery rigged with flamethrowers to incinerate targets.
The Steampunk Tree House, which traveled to Burning Man in 2007 and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in March, is making its first appearance at the Fire Arts Festival this year.
"The sculpture will keep traveling until it finds a home," said Sean Orlando of his 30-foot-tall, steam-powered sculpture. "Luckily, it's modular, so all 25,000 pounds of it comes apart ... and we can show it anywhere we want."
The open-air festival, which has drawn as many as 10,000 spectators in past years, runs Wednesday through Saturday at the Crucible's Fire Arts Arena in Oakland. Fiery festivities begin after sundown in a lot adjacent to the Crucible's headquarters at Kirkham and 5th streets. Tickets cost $35 to $55, with proceeds benefiting the center, which offers classes in the industrial arts such as glass-blowing, metalworking and fire-eating.
While admitting that the California wildfires -- which have prompted evacuations and filled the air with smoke in certain parts of the state -- could dampen attendance at the Fire Arts Festival, Sturtz said he thinks this year's event is more relevant than ever.
"People need to stop fearing fire and got more comfortable with it [and preventative measures like] controlled burns," he said. "It's crucial to help prevent future crises like the one we're experiencing."