One of the Bay Area’s most Bay-particular institutions is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. I say “Bay-particular” because Oakland’s the Crucible combines a number of Bay Area-specific virtues, or virtues that have a Bay-specific spin to them: creative, cross-genre collaboration, artist-built collective work spaces, giving back to da youtt, youth and adult arts education, alternative community building … oh yeah, and pyromania. Yes, pyromania is a virtue, if it involves robots.

You thought I was gonna go there with the touchy-feely and the alternative community building shiz, didn’t you? It’s in there, but keep in mind that the Crucible community has a strong Burner contingent, with the anarchy and the cyber libertarianism and the cool cool sixty-foot-high steel rocking horses that shoot flames out of their …snouts. But these are the good Burners, you know, the ones who spend the whole year hardcore building those crazy giant playgrounds in the desert? The ones who actually make the mechanisms that get the robots to breathe fire? Where did you suppose they did the work? Where else, but in the Crucible’s 5600 square feet of workshop space?

Well, don’t worry. You don’t have to pay the $5000 entrance fee and get naked in the desert for a week with annoying people on ecstasy to see Crucible product. Fortunately for you, you can stay in Oakland (or break that fourth wall the City has erected and come over to Oakland) for the Crucible’s 8th annual Fire Arts Festival. No, it’s not a mini-Burning Man. This is its own thing, a Crucible thing. And kids are not only welcome, they’re encouraged. (And you’re encouraged to put them down for a long nap, so they can survive the 8pm – 12am, after-dark showtime.)

Running only four nights, from July 15-18, 2009, the Fire Arts Festival is the Crucible’s big annual fundraiser (funding its huge workshop space, as well as youth and adult classes in blacksmithing, welding, woodworking, glassblowing, fire-eating, etc.) The festival presents a wide range of interactive (and fire-breathing) art installations and sculptures, demonstrations, and musical performances (a different one every night.)

But the festival’s centerpiece this year will be the Rootabaga Opera. Based on poet Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories for children, this multidisciplinary piece by Dan Cantrell shows off the Crucible’s wild creativity and collaborative ethic at its most grounded. The opera is performed by a band with a small women’s choir, and features a backdrop created by Crucible-forged metal shadow puppets of mountains and treelines (provided by Shadowlight Productions, of course.) Comic dancers in vaudeville del arte costume and life-size puppets round out the show.

Closing night (July 18th) the moneyed will get the opportunity to bid on Crucible-made art at the Soiree. I’m told by reliable sources that the VIP contingent at the Crucible is very “VI.” Apparently, rich people love this shiznit. So there’s another reason to go, if the shooting flames and leather-clad, fire-juggling babes aren’t enough.

The Fire Arts Festival runs July 15-18, 2009. For more information visit thecrucible.org.

Fire! Fire! Robots!: The Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival 13 July,2009Claire Light

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Claire Light

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