Expo FAQ

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What is the Union Square Fire Dancing Expo?

The short answer is that the Fire Dancing Expo, held annually in San Francisco’s Union Square, is the largest free, legal, public fire dancing show in the Western Hemisphere. Check out a description and history of this annual fire dancing show here.

When and where is it?

The Expo is held in Union Square during Bay Area Dance Week. It has traditionally been held on the last Saturday of April at 8 pm.

How do I perform?

Artists who wish to perform should create an application and submit it for consideration by Noon, January 18, 2014.

What should I know about my video audition?

  • read the selection criteria so you know what we want for a video.
  • the camera should not move in an out of focus or change at all.
  • we want the perspective of a fixed view from downstage center 15feet or more back from where you’re standing. feel free to move from side to side and up and downstage — we want to see that as it relates to *OUR* stage which is 70 Feet wide.
  • if we deem your video as “not well lit” we will not even watch it because we can’t see you and therefore can’t assess if we should or should not put you in the show.
    HINT ON LIGHTING: Your tool alone is definitely not enough light. you need other external lighting so we can see you. Consider the following for lighting: street lights, multiple caldrons, lit outdoor areas, parking lots with lighting, dusk, sunrise, daytime in the shade. 
  • we want boring videos: no effects, no cool camera angels, no videographers walking around and shooting you from different angels and the most straight forward shot as if we are the actual audience. Edits of two clips shot at the same angle with different takes works great, but please try NOT to be creative. we want all the videos to look as close as possible to each other so we an access them equally.

Can I apply to be in more than one piece? 

Yes, you can, and in fact, we encourage all solo acts to also apply as part of a group since there are so many auditions for the limited solo spots. 🙂

Can you give us an example of bad lighting?

This is an example of what we mean by poor video lighting — it a random video that came over google alerts and it isn’t an audition video. (though we’ve gotten audition videos less well lit than this one.) You’ll notice at the beginning the lighting is pretty decent. by half way through, you can’t see the artists whole body most of the time. That’s what makes it poor lighting.

I read there are limits to the time for each category. What else do I need to know about the music?

  • Max time slots are listed in the application
  • Your audition song does not have to be the exact cut of the song you’d use for the Expo so you can cut it later if you audition with the full track and need to splice it down
  • Remember, because you ask for a time slot doesn’t mean we will give you that duration so there stands a chance you will ask for 3 minutes and we’ll offer 90 seconds — We recommend you don’t get attached to your track too much OR explicitly state in the application that it needs to be that duration or you aren’t in the show.
  • If you are a new artist, it is highly unlikely you will get the full duration and we strongly suggest you neither request nor expect that time for your act.
  • Remember, we are shooting for an act average of 2:00. That may seem short and, at the same time, it allows for the most number of acts in the show. In 2013, we had 44 acts and 96 artists. We imagine we will have over 100 artists in 2014. Let’s remember the intent is to do short, powerful pieces not long and drawn out stuff. This is about high impact in a short amount of time.
  • For perspective, even our 2014 trio (Zihni, Nova & GlitterGirl) has a music cut of 2:17 including some silence at the end of the track. so unless you think you’re going to be putting on a better show than we are or at least as good as we are, consider that when asking for your time selection.

How do I attend?

To attend, show up in Union Square the night of the show. There will be a limited number of reserved seats we will have set up in advance that people can purchase through the Kickstarter Project (2014 project coming soon!).

Does the Expo cost money?

No, the Fire Dancing Expo is free to the public.

Why are you offering seats for money to a free event?

The seats we offer through the Kickstarter are seats we get set up at the venue and allow audience members the ease and convenience of not having to bring their own chairs to the plaza. Kickstarter rewards are a special perk and optional for people who want that ease and convenience. Most people who get those seats are either former performer or family members of those performing.

Does the Expo make money?

No, the Fire Dancing Expo consistently loses money. Temple of Poi is over $30,000 in debt from costs associated with producing the show.

I read, “No tosses allowed.” What is a toss for the purposes of this show?

This limitation means no acceleration to the side or upward of any prop while letting it go. A drop is okay, where you let go of the tool without applying force in any direction and passing it hand to hand is okay as long as their is no momentum being adding upward or sideways, though the momentum gravity creates is fine.

Do artists get paid?

Artists do not get paid cash unless they received a travel stipend. Artists do, however, gain access to an exclusive photo shoot for performers only which yields hundreds of amazing photos. Artists are allowed to use these photos for non-profit purposes.

Is fuel provided for performers?

Yes! Please note, we only use white gas. We do not use kerosine or lamp oil. Oil based products are dangerous on this stage especially and have caused artists to slip in the past because of residue. As a result, we no longer allow fuel mixtures. Please be sure your tools burn the correct length with white gas only.

Is this show for professionals only?

No! The Fire Dancing Expo is specifically designed to support artists of all levels. The show is constructed so that the overall experience goes from “wow” to “WOW!!!!!” over the course of the night, which allows new artists to be seen and seasoned veterans to be better understood and appreciated.

Does the concept video need to be on fire?

No, the concept video does not need to be on fire and, likely, we will see you better if you are spinning in the light. The URL for the Fire department form does need to be on fire. And, of course, the actual work video should be fire too, since it should be an actual performance.

What does the video for the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) need to show?

The form is basically a CYA for the SFFD. All you really need to put in there is a URL with you using fire safely. It doesn’t matter what prop. You can be working with a group or not. As we understand it, they actually only check the form to ensure the URL is listed there and they don’t look at every single URL on the internet. While this makes no logical sense, it is our understanding you only have to be spinning fire, meaning if you have a video of you doing poi but you’re auditioning with fans, that’s okay.

Can I write off the Kickstarter Donation? 

While you can not write off the donation as a contribution to a non profit, if you are an artists, you can write this off as part of your expenses to support your art. That can be done if you itemize and do this for a profession, of course, and, as we understand it, if you itemize and file it under your hobby expense. Check with your accountant in your area about the laws that apply to writing things off for “fire dancing” as a hobby.

Should we wear costumes in our audition video?

All things being equal about 2 auditions, costuming could be a deciding factor. If you don’t have a costume yet, wear an old costume to demonstrate you can look like a performer because this jeans and t-shirt crap is lame — we don’t look like professional performers when we don’t take the time to have an actual costumes. Help the selection panel know you have costuming in mind. For past concept videos, the artists may not have been in costume though they did submit a costume concept which goes a long way to explaining how thoroughly artists have thought through the concepts and ideas associated with their performance. If you have no idea about how to create a costume, check out this article: 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Creating a Fabulous Fire Costume.

What should I know about choreographing a piece for the Union Square stage?

If you are relatively new to choreography, you’ll probably benefit from checking out our Choreography 101 article. Beyond that, Union Square is a somewhat unique venue in that most people have never worked with a stage that is 70′ wide by 30′ deep. Yes, it is more than 2x as wide. Also, by virtue of how the fire marshal requires things and the setup of the photographers, the average audience member will:

  • not be in the middle (in fact, only the camera is there, though, the camera records this for history)
  • not be able to see small movements
  • will be 50′ or more away from you. The closest photographer is about 30′ from the center of center stage. that’s pretty far away, so think big when you’re polishing up your piece.
  • remember that the stage is elevated so if you’re on the ground on the stage, the audience may not be able to see you

If you want to check your work in terms of how effective it looks at a distance, set up a camera at a long distance from where you’re spinning and record the set. See how much of the movement the camera captures. Surely the eyes work better than the lens of a camera. However, this will give you a sense of the scope of what people will be able to see and what they can’t make out on the stage.

Please note there are 4 caldrons on the stage which remain in the same place in Union Square.

What should I know about costumes as related to showing up on film and video?

We very strongly suggest the following to maximize your appearance in the photos and videos:

  • do not wear all black — your body sort of just disappears in some of the footage, depending on the camera. so you can look like you have a floating head
  • do do something to accentuate the lines of your body — a stripe of fabric, glitter, rhinestones, whatever that is *light* colored down your leg or at the cuff — arms too perhaps — so that your body parts will show up better both in the photos and on the video.

What should I know about stage entrance and exist?

Please be aware of the following as you write your performance:

  • you can not light offstage/backstage.
  • there will be caldrons on the stage — this link has details with maps and everything.
  • you can ONLY enter and exit from upstage left
  • if you have to switch out tools, we will have a safety or prop assistant on the side of the stage there to take the old tool and help with the new tool
  • most importantly: there really is no backstage. this means everything you do on stage is seen, so when you’re working out the details of your piece (changing props, exiting and entering stage, etc.) please be aware that your actions can be seen by everyone and are likely on some camera somewhere.

How do you create the show order?

We need to see everyone’s act to make the right show order. This is why we require a video due in April in costume. Show order is, from our perspective, critical to making the Expo work well, especially considering the variety of acts, tools and skill level being presented.

To give you a sense of what goes into it, when creating the order, here are some of the things we consider in terms of the overall flow of the show:

  • whose act needs more light to be seen or not (which means if you want to go early, please let us know — some acts have already made that request)
  • tone of the performance
  • skill level of the act
  • tools being used
  • gender of the artists
  • quality of the presentation overall
  • smoothness of the performance (timing relative to music, your partner(s), and of the transitions overall)- style of piece (just spinning, a character piece, or some combination of the two)
  • overall presentation presence (does the act have a story? is it just some moves executed in a row? is it polished or rough? etc.)
  • number of performers
  • tone and tempo of the music
  • amount of fire on the stage

The objective is to have each act contrast with the acts before and after it while creating an overall build in the show from the audiences perspective. How that happens varies wildly depending on the factors listed above. Therefore, if we don’t see a video of your piece with you in costume delivering it as it will be in union square, how can we create the most powerful show order possible?

In 2012, we spent 15-20 hours working on the lineup (just the lineup — not the programs or getting it onto the web site) so if you think this is an easy task, consider we had 33% more acts in 2013 and, not surprisingly, it took longer. We anticipate this will increase again in 2014.

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