Burning Desire

Culte du Feu's latest offering is part performance art, part circus freak show, part magic show, and part rampant (yet responsible) pyromania. In other words, you can't miss it. But Ars Arma Publica (Latin for "Art Arms the People") isn't just vaudeville on fire. It's a statement, an offering a work of art.

Stephen Strange, an aptly named man if ever there was one, says, "Even if all hell breaks loose, even if there's a war, even if it's Armageddon, people still need to create and have fun -- it's almost more important now." Strange says that the six-year-old troupe is attempting to do something positive, to entertain people when entertainment is most important a job he takes very seriously. "The name Culte du Feu' means fire worship, or church of fire. None of us are strictly religious, but we have very strong spiritual beliefs." Strange explains that the show is performance art as well as entertainment, spectacle accompanied by substance.

"We didn't want to do the same 100-year-old carny act," he says. Strange had experience as a street performer, eating flaming swords and sticking fire down his pants. "It was very dry," says Strange. "I wanted to put together something that inspires you to go do something creative."

The show itself is a hodgepodge of performances, ranging from fire-free belly dancing to full pyrotechnics, with some jugglers, stilt walkers and a band of men dressed as clowns playing scat. "The Clown Band is great. Imagine a bunch of people obsessed with clowns and clown makeup doing improvisational jazz. They're really good, actually," says Strange. Also appearing will be local dance troupe Axe Capoiera, escapologist and cardician Charles Elfmann, and performance group Aerialist Extraordinaire.

The first part of the show is indoors, and is tamer than the outdoor second portion. "It's like a mini-freak show," says Strange. "Some of the girls do solo belly dancing. There is some cheesy comedy, vaudeville-style. I wanted to create a venue for fire performers to do other things." But the fire performers are still going to light up the place after intermission.

Strange would like to foster and eventually create a local scene for his type of performing. "There isn't really a local circus scene, and there really needs to be. I don't know about you, but I get sick of seeing bands," explains Strange.

In addition to the shows, Culte du Feu hosts a fire performance and safety instruction workshop on Thursday nights at The Fire House in downtown Phoenix. Strange says it is completely accessible to any interested members of the public, though it is mainly running on word of mouth. "We keep it really open. Anyone who has a pyro vein in him." Strange, a self-proclaimed pyro himself, says, "My mom caught me burning something once, and she said she knew she couldn't stop me so she let me light anything on fire I wanted. But I had to tell her and she had to be there. This is kind of what I am trying to do."