Fire performers Lucent Dossier Experience. Photo by Russ Wagner

            The Crucible was on fire! OK, maybe not literally, but the erupting jets from flame cannons shooting across the cavernous Oakland arts complex were thunderously spellbinding. Then Steven Young stepped onstage wearing a top hat tricked out with feathers, tuxedo tails, and a cloth-fringed spangled neck scarf in fiery reds and oranges to introduce the evening’s entertainment, Lucent Dossier Experience’s presentation of Inferno: A Fire Circus. I knew I wasn’t in Orlando anymore.

            Face it. As much as Central Florida is known for diverse high-quality entertainment (and I definitely include my alter-ego as Natasha, The Psychic Lady among that elite group), the rules are just different in Oakland, CA. Sure, we have theme parks, corporate parties and charity events that fundraise by showcasing art and entertainment, but I can now tell you unequivocally that we don’t have a 56,000-sf non-profit industrial arts educational facility that biannually presents fire ballets, fire operas, and this year’s fire circus, a 3-night event demonstrating The Crucible’s fire arts (welding, glass blowing, glass slumping etc) classes and instructors and a red-hot show that defies prediction.

            “The Crucible is the premier industrial arts educational facility in the country, dedicated to a collaboration of arts, industry and community,” says Young, The Crucible’s extrovert Executive Director who hosts and participates in the creative process of producing their events. “By incorporating fire-themed demonstrations that showcase our arts education programs, we give people the opportunity to engage in the creative process and find their own creative medium.”

Flame On, Arcade Game. Photo by Russ Wagner

     Those demonstrations included original arcade games surrounding the circus atmosphere of Inferno’s full show presentations on the second and third nights. Wildly popular was Flammable!, a hand-eye coordination game created by the Glass Flameworking and Kinetics classes.

            The Crucible isn’t just blowing smoke when it comes to community involvement.  They distribute more than $100,000 in scholarships for “underserved young people to participate in our arts education programs.”

            I hear comments from Central Florida’s hospitality, meetings & events community that we need unique venues. Would that we had something like The Crucible’s gigantic spaces that can so easily be themed. Corporate groups book day classes and customized teambuilding activities. Imagine a group getting to pound hot metal into candle sticks, create jewelry, throw pottery or blow glass and then being able to donate their creations to a charity. Think of the customized party entertainment this group can produce, beyond the ubiquitous fire breather.

            “Our team of pyrotechnic experts design and produce dramatic fire effects that create an exciting and dynamic environment that is unexpected and impressive. More importantly, because we are the experts in pyrotechnics and work so closely with the Oakland Fire Marshall, we create these theatrical elements in a way that is safe and controlled,” says Young.

            Even for The Crucible, the first night’s Fire and Light Soiree and Art Auction raised the bar for how fire elements could be incorporated into the entertainment. The collaboration fueled The Crucible’s pyrotechnic expertise with Lucent Dossier’s fiery sense of the fanciful and dramatic.  

            I first saw Lucent Dossier Experience on Top Chef Just Desserts. The internationally-acclaimed cirque-like act was the inspiration for a flaming desserts competition. I was impressed then. I was bowled over in person. They strutted, pranced, emoted, danced, did acrobatic stunts, and hung dramatically from floating cages, trapeze swings and soared on streams of silken cloths above the crowds. Throughout it all, there was fire: lighting up an umbrella or flaming from a performer’s top hat. Fire was twirled, sparked during a mock sword battle worthy of Harry Potter and you-know-who, or blazed the length of a sword balanced on a belly dancer’s head.

            As powerful as their performance was, the art stroll during cocktails, dinner and art auction set a fierce standard to meet. I’m not sure which captured my attention most: the incredible sculptures, glass designs, hammered brass candle sticks, the many other fire-inspired works donated by instructors and students, or the audience’s attire. Californian’s in that world love to dress up in a chic meets elaborate costuming, yet in an  elegant manner. The A-list of artists and art patrons wore feathers, boas, glittery men’s Indian coats, designer dresses atypical of a more conservative formal affair, and imaginative hats. One man wore a cupcake suspended over his head as his hat. A real cupcake. With real icing. No, I didn’t snag a fingerful!

            Wine flowed freely from sponsor Alexander Valley Vineyards, one of my favorite Sonoma stops in wine country. ORO Pisco created a cocktail for the evening. This was no rubber chicken dinner. Grace Street Cateringshone in their culinary creations, from the braised pork belly with spicy tomato jam served as one of the hors d’oeuvres to their sustainable menu that included chiogga beets, heirloom gazpacho, and a melt-in-your-mouth lemongrass adobo short rib served with asparagus, fennel apple slaw, potato cake, chili and garlic sauce. Just thinking about it makes me salivate.

Steve Young hosts the events. Photo by Russ Wagner

Dinner was followed by a lively art auction, helped not only by the exquisite works of fire arts (my fave was a 5’ light of neon, fused glass and steel), but also by Auctioneer Durwood Zedd. His comedic, encouraging, open manner escalated the bids and the evening’s cheer. More than $60,000 was raised that evening.

            The Crucible’s next event is the world premiere of Machine: A Fire Opera, January 11-14 and 18-21, 2012. Young says that “Machine will deliver the kind of spectacular and awe-inspiring experience that our audiences have come to expect.”

            For information about classes or events, go to www.thecrucible.org

 Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlandoarea who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI, for which she is on the Membership Advisory Council and the Industry Advisory Council. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com

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