There is a certain pattern that pyros experience when meeting new people in a casual setting. It starts with small talk, an anecdote, perhaps a joke or two. How about this weather? Did you hear about that new app? So politicians are nuts, huh? And then, inevitably, the big question is dropped.
“So, what do you do?” they ask. I imagine them expecting a response like IT, accountant, administration or even dog walker.
“I’m a pyrotechnician,” I reply with a smile. “I design and shoot fireworks displays.”
The reaction is always the same. Eyebrows are raised. Their eyes widen as the words “wow” and “cool” are uttered. Then the conversation catches up to them. Their eyes turn into narrow slits and those same eyebrows furrow as confusion sets in. The follow up questions begin:
“Do you still have all your fingers?” the funny guys asks, trying to break the ice.
Very original. I have not heard that before. Allow me to answer by wiggling my fingers for you. Yup, still there.
“Wait, aren’t fireworks illegal?” asks the concerned citizen.
Yes, it is illegal for consumers to buy fireworks here, but I shoot big shows. The kind of things you would see on the 4th of July. We have lots of licenses, permits, and insurance.
Then there is a pause filled with slow silent nods. I smile politely.
Finally, my favorite question:
“How did you get into that?” asks the curious one.
This question is my favorite simply because it exists. No one asks how you got into finance, HR, or sales. But fireworks? What the hell is that? Is that even a thing?
We are a lucky breed. Fireworks professionals are like unicorns. It’s rare to encounter one in the wild. You need to find magical places like fireworks conventions to run into any number of them. Even I have yet to meet a pyrotechnician when I wasn’t looking for one. People watch fireworks shows fairly regularly and the overwhelming number of individuals I meet seem to love them, so naturally someone must be doing the work.
Yet, it’s simply not something that the average person thinks about. Even I, before exploring the business, never considered the work behind the wonder that is a fireworks show. Shoot sites are removed from the general public, generally hidden from view. Fireworks crews remain largely unseen. Just like the fleeting nature of fireworks in the sky, pyro companies operate with an impermanent intensity.A crew and equipment arrive, a show is executed, and then the team is gone, leaving the venue as it was before.
Fireworks crews and the people behind them become transparent in the process. It is an art form without an artist. Unlike a painting or a poem, there is no signature. The names of crew members are not displayed in the sky following the display. There are no credits or acknowledgments. Credit is given to the sponsor and the venue that hosts the display. In conversation, the host becomes synonymous with the fireworks show itself. Very little, if any consideration is given to the actual team behind the display.
This is quite a unique dynamic in the world of art and entertainment. The reputation of fireworks designers, crews, and companies are not tied to their own name, but the name of the venues, sponsors, and hosts that have hired them. The identifying characteristics of fireworks displays are judged and ranked by the venues, and not the fireworks displays themselves. It is common to hear a discussion about one town’s fireworks show being better than another town’s show, yet it is very rare to hear one company being touted over another.
This dynamic is equivalent to judging a movie by the theater that is showing the movie. We know that movies are made by filmmakers and when we prefer one movie over another, we discuss the qualities of the movie itself and the achievements of the filmmaker. The theater that one viewed the movie in is an incidental detail. The movie is discussed and identified by its title, not the name of the theater. This simple, yet remarkable distinction is often lost in the world of fireworks.
And so, it comes as no surprise that an average person has no concept of how one gets into fireworks. It is a complete mystery not because of the nature of the question, but because the question is so rarely considered. It is impossible to ask how one gets into an industry when those in the industry remain anonymous.
Perhaps it is the nature of the art form that causes this unique identifying dynamic to occur. No other art form fills a space the way fireworks quite literally do. I suppose there is a certain pride in working in a medium that so thoroughly inhabits a venue that the medium itself and the location where it is exhibited become one and the same in nomenclature.
That said, fireworks shows are a unique expression of the designers and crews behind those shows. It’s a bit of a disservice to the hardworking individuals that put on these shows when their names are lost among the sponsors. To the fireworks enthusiast’s eye, there are certain signature characteristics that become identifiable among fireworks displays besides their venues. These signature characteristics become the identifying markers of those artists among the fireworks community. Hardcore fans can easily discern a Ricardo Caballer display from an Eric Tucker presentation, and yet, these individuals are complete strangers to the millions of people that enjoy their shows every year.
For those wondering, Ricardo Caballer is one of the most widely acclaimed display designers in the world of fireworks (http://www.ricardocaballer.com/es/) and Eric Tucker is the man behind many of the fireworks displays at Disney theme parks. Literally millions of people have enjoyed the artwork that these two have created, yet they live in almost complete anonymity.
I propose that we as a fireworks community make a conscious effort to recognize these shining individuals, crews, and companies in our industry so that we can not only give credit where credit is due, but so that venues can make a more informed decision when deciding who should be behind these displays. This blog is one channel that will act as a spotlight for highlighting the people that create the magic. Let’s work together and spread the word.
As for the viewing public, I propose that the next time you are enjoying the sights, sounds, and absolute awe of a fireworks display, take a moment and ask, “Who are these people?” It will be appreciated more than you can imagine and you might just get the opportunity to hear the story behind the question, “How did you get into that?”
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!
The first post was a big hit and I can’t thank all of my readers enough! You guys rock! There is plenty more to come! If you haven’t yet subscribed, please do. I’d really hate for you to miss the awesomeness.
Also, I’ve updated the other pages with some of my fireworks shows for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!