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Thursday, December 20, 2012

We Can Start The Fire in Where (we) Live

by David Hsieh

The ethos of collaborative art is interesting—let’s just mix different genres and disciplines and see what comes out! But it can be challenge too, especially for the people who have to make it happen—the production team.

For the second of their four performances of Where (we) Live at BAM, Sō Percussion put a blacksmith on stage to add the banging on anvil to their percussive chorus (Yes, the invocation of the Anvil Chorus in Il Trovatore is deliberate.) Their collaborator is Marsha Trattner, a female blacksmith based in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Both sides are willing and game. But how does our production team create working conditions that will be able to melt down hard metal on stage but not burn down everything around it? That job falls to our Production Supervisor Paul Bartlett and pyrotechnician Bill Horton.

Before he could give it a go-ahead, Paul visited Marsha’s welding studio to see her forge. The main concerns for Paul were 1) If the fire was contained, and 2) If there would be smoke (if there is the risk of monoxide, ventilation would be called for.) Once he was satisfied, the question became logistics: How to get the forge on stage and how to get the fire going? That’s where Bill came in.

A licensed pyrotechnician who learned the trade secrets from his father (who also worked at BAM), Bill has handled all kinds of fire situations on BAM stages, from creating a fireplace onstage for Cate Blanchett to warm her hands by for A Streetcar Named Desire (Spring 2009) to a 12-foot inferno in Sasha Waltz’s Gezeiten (Next Wave Festival 2010). Marsha needed enough propane fuel to heat her portable forge (about the size of a microwave oven) to up to 2,250° F. Due to safety concerns, the propane tank cannot be anywhere inside the building. So Bill had to put the tank in the back alley of the Harvey Theater, and connect the on-stage forge to the tank with a long pipe. Luckily, the back wall of the Harvey had already been drilled before for another fire. (In Hedda Gabbler in 2006, there was another on-stage fireplace.)  So Bill just reused that hole.

There was another small obstacle. Jason Treuting of  Sō Percussion created a makeshift projection screen with papers and fabrics. When Paul saw it the day before, he knew immediately that is a no-go. “Too flammable!” So Jason went back and gathered some sheetrock to make a new one overnight.

But no one can light even a match on stage without the Fire Department’s approval. So in accordance with regulations, the fire marshal came and inspected. He was totally satisfied with BAM’s highly-skilled stagehands and their work. This one is a “Go”!

But we can't leave out another important person. The propane tank needs to be looked after ALL the time! So Bill’s wife, Virginia Horton, another licensed pyrotechnician at BAM, will be huddled in the cold outside tonight to keep watch on that tank, while audience in the theater stays warm and toasty.

Virginia (Ginger) checks the gas levels to make sure they're safe. 
So this is the story of a welder, a fire, a percussion group, and what happens when artists collaborate. It really takes a village! We want to give a shout-out to our dedicated production team for making this happen.

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