Some people say theatre is boring. Some think theatre is for old people, but that’s actually opera. The truth is, theatre has grown more and more intriguing and many shows are beginning to attract younger audiences. There are a lot of elements that help bring in younger crowds, and one of those elements is pyrotechnics. Special effects are cool, and pyro is one of the coolest. More and more productions are finding ways to integrate pyrotechnics, and audiences are beginning to expect it. Whether it is a gun shot, an explosion or just visual highlights for climactic emphasis, fire on stage is becoming more common, but it is not as easy as lighting some fireworks on stage.
Safety is the name of the game. A pyrotechnic operator must undergo extensive training and be licensed by the authority having jurisdiction. That means the fire marshall closest to the venue will be keeping a close eye on everything going on during the run of a show. All of the desired effects must be seen and approved by the fire marshal before an audience will get to enjoy them. A number of unfortunate accidents involving pyrotechnics have increased the amount of regulations and ultimately, made the art form safer.
Pyrotechnic devices, or effects, are manufactured to very strict specifications. A device will say
how high or wide the effect will be and will also indicate the product’s duration. There are even obvious symbols to display the proper orientation of the device. A good pyrotechnic designer will be very familiar with the many types of devices available, and know when to use certain pieces for certain effects. The effect should always support the production artistically, and maintain the safety of all performer and audience members.
To insure the safety of everyone involved, a proper control system is required. There are many providers of pyrotechnic control systems, but they all adhere to some strict guidelines that prevent improper use or accidental detonation of device on stage. Radio controlled systems utilize both a transmitter and multiple receivers to trigger cues located anywhere on the stage. Starlight Express is a production that illustrates the benefits of this type of system.
Receivers are small boxes that contain up to 12 firing cues. As many as 8 devices can be fired on one single cue. This allows a waterfall golden of sparks to rain down over one of the lead performers during his dramatic entrance. Every night when this effect was fired, it was obvious that the audience was pleased. Younger members of the audience who weren’t sure about what they were going to see, were instantly drawn in and visually excited about what was going on on stage.
Starlight Express utilized 10 receiving firing modules on stage including two small receivers that were built into the costumes of different performers. Certain characters shot fire and sparks from their hands at various moments creating a high impact effect. The first act included 20 separate pyrotechnic cues and utilized more than 40 devices. The second act also included sparks and flames, finalizing the whole ordeal with a magnificent display of large scale fireworks 300 feet above the stage. Audience members have repeatedly praised the pyrotechnic effects seen in this production.
People have always had a mysterious fascination with fire. There is no doubt that when used appropriately, and safely, pyrotechnics add a wonderful flare to a theatrical experience. Its important to remember what theatre is competing with; video games and Hollywood. Not every play calls for, or would even benefit from the use of fireworks on stage, but those that do have the extra “bang”, are certainly more likely to gain the attention of a younger audience.
Holatron Firing Systems Website. http://www.holatron.com. October 29th, 2013.
Driggs, Kenneth. Personal Experience. Tuacahn Center for the Arts