Featured Image by: See You Design
It’s been a while since we’ve interviewed our German boundary-pushing friend, Christian Unger. Now however, he comes back to the pages of our magazine in quite a different capacity. We love getting a taste of fire communities overseas, but having comprehensive insight into their fire festival structure is a special treat. As one of the organizers for Phoenix Convention, Christian pulls back the curtain and lets FIRE Mag readers get a special look at the festival, right behind the release of Phoenix’s exclusive and beautiful promotional video. Find the interview below the video and enjoy!
FM: Hey Christian! Welcome to Flow Chat. First, tell us about yourself as a fire artist. When and how did you start your adventures with fire?
CU: In 2010 I was at my first Fire Festival in Germany (Burning Bizzar Convention) and I was super amazed by all the awesome fire artists there. The feeling was great and I really began to like the fire community. After a long journey to find my passion I was super happy to find a thing where I can be myself and put alot of time in it 🙂
FM: Tell us about the main organizers of Phoenix Convention and how did you begin to work together?
CU: The first Phoenix Fire Convention was organized by Hannes Glowfire (Austria) and myself after months of mind hacking (brainstorming) by a good fire friend Eberhardt. But after the first Phoenix Hannes ws a bit busy with his life and he left the organization. But the community wanted more and so the second Phoenix was organized by a motivated and skillful team from Leipzig (German city). Rene Feuerer (Logistics, Financial), Eva Maria Geßner (Galashow / Print & Design), Jens Friedrich (Technicals, Website), Tina Seemann (Decoration, Logo Design), Myself (All Things Information and Promotion). That was the main organization team but we had a lot of people that helped us a lot with various jobs. Team Fire-Space, Jacquis Chai, Everybody’s Hand Massage, Mondton Pirates Deco Crew and many more.
FM: Where did the idea of Phoenix Convention come from, and what was your perfect vision?
CU: The idea of the Phoenix comes from other fire festivals in the world but mostly originates from European fire festivals (Alle Mitmischen, Firesouls Convention, Festivention, Festa del fuoco di Stromboli, Spielpause der Gaukler, Roztoc Flowartfest and many more). The perfect vision for the Phoenix already happened this year, the Phoenix is one of the biggest fire festivals in the world with alot of love and passion! And we want to grow more so that there is space for everyone.
FM: How close, or far, is the festival now, from the way you first imagined it?
CU: The Phoenix is now far away from what we originally planned the Phoenix to be. Next year is Phoenix number four but it feels like the number ten. Everyone wants to come, and every time one meets a fire friend you speak about this special gathering. We are super amazed about this evolution and a bit proud on our baby bird 🙂
FM: What makes Phoenix Convention different from other festivals you’ve been to?
CU: I’ve been to quite a few fire festivals, and every one of them is a bit different but beautiful. What makes the Phoenix different? I think it’s the idea behind the Phoenix itself. The Phoenix exists to feel free on the fire space, to enjoy the flames, to dance with sparks, meet people while you watch the burners, to learn, to give, to come out from daily business! To ENJOY life. Every visitor gets a small bottle (glass) to collect the ash of the Phoenix on the last day and bring it back for the open ceremony next year!
We make a super good experience with ”Masterclass Workshops” on the timetable. It’s not like a normal workshop with a teacher its more like a trick-share (skill-share)! All members make a big circle and then it goes around to demonstrate a new move or a thingy. We have these kind of workshops for Poi, Contact Staff, Double Staff, Hoop, Fans, Contact Juggling, Dragon Staff, with extras in the form of beginner workshops and workshops from the gala artists.
We give away over 10 kilograms of Sklitter powder so everyone can play with funny fairy dust 🙂
The Fancy Dress Night at Saturday is for everyone that want to dress up to a theme 🙂 2015 was Mad Max Post Apocalyptic theme, same as for the Gala-show.
Last but not least the super cool Phoenix-Games with awesome prizes (from great European fire gear shops) and a lot of fun with Fire Limbo, Hoop-Gladiators, Props on the head fights (rolling Dragon Staff is hard to beat :P) and many more.
P.S. There is a masseuse. That service is not included but the Massage Crew works for donations and for free for build volunteers.
FM: Wha are the Phoenix-Games?
CU: The Phoenix Games are a bit like juggling games but with more spinning games and a lot of fun.
FM: What have you done that improves on other festivals you’re familiar with?
CU: We try to provide cheap tickets and none of the organizers earn money from the Phoenix, it’s a community project! We also work on other fire festivals in Germany to give some advice. For example the fire space at Alle Mitmischen Festival, parts of the fire space music for Firesouls Convention and German safety rules in other countries 😛 (Brianzola Juggling Convention in Italy or Roztoc Firefest in Czech). We try to make a safe and comfortable way to burn at our beautiful fire space in 3 steps (dipping, entry, exit).
FM: How much is a ticket? Has this changed from the first festival? How and why?
CU: The ticket for 4 days and 3 nights is 50€ (53$) in the presale phase. And 73€ for the ticket + 5 warm meals from a 3 star restaurant (meat and vegetarian available) We are able to be that cheap because lots of people want to bring their skills to the festival for free, or gives us a good deal on equipment rentals and the fuel price (in 2016 we will give 1000 liters of fuel for free to the burners). In 2015 we gave 750 liters of fuel. The first Phoenix was only 35€ but with more people we have to pay more to rent the location, more toilets and Showers, more fuel, bigger sound systems and more in insurance.
FM: How do you select your instructors and/or performers?
CU: We don’t select our instructors because we don’t want to have only a workshop convention with straight timelines. Everyone is free to teach everyone in order to spread knowledge. The Performers are mostly friends from all over the world with a nice act to show. Normally the Galashow is already planned out in April before Phoenix 🙂 . If you want to perform in Phoenix Fire Galashow and have something awesome to show: send an E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title Galashow 2016.
FM: Do instructors, or performers get paid, or get money for travel?
CU: We don’t pay instructors with money but we give for every Workshop done a piece of cake and a good Chaitea. We pay a maximum of 250€ for travel refund , ticket and food for gala artists. I know that’s not that much but we only want to be a help for performers to come to the Phoenix and have a good time. We can’t pay normal prices for performers because we don’t want to raise the ticket price.
FM: Can you tell us about your budget?
CU: Our budget is between 10.000€ and 14.000€. 25% goes to Location Rental, 10% Technical Expenses, 20% Galashow including the travel costs, 5%, Promotion (Flyer, Buttons), 15% Fuel, 20% Decoration, 5% Office, tools, Phoenix Games.
FM: What is the typical schedule of the festival?
CU: Ohhh I like this question 🙂 Day 1 Thursday Opens at 14:00 Workshops at 15:00 Food at 18:00 Fire space at 21.00 after our big steel phoenix is burned in the opening ceremony Day 2 Friday 10:00 Workshops 12:00 Lunch 13:00 Workshops 15:00 PHOENIX Games 18:00 Food 20:30 Phoenix Games Random Show 21:00 Firespace opens Day 3 Saturday (Fancy Dress Night) 10:00 Workshops 11:00 Shoptime (7 Hours) 12:30 Lunch 13:00 Workshops 18:00 preparings for the Galashow and the Fancy Dress Night. 21:00 Galashow 22:45 Firespace opens 🙂 Day 4 Sunday 10:00 Workshops 12:00 collect the ash of the Phoenix with your bottle! 16:00 End of the festival
FM: How big is the land on which the festival happens and how do you divide the space?
CU: Uhhh I don’t know, but it’s huge, situated in the mountains of Germany 🙂 . The fire space is in the day time for open spinning. We have 6 workshop spaces and a big fire space (450 square meters) is for free spinning in the range of our sound system the whole day 🙂 . The camping area is located on the hill behind the fire space, so if you come down the hill, it looks super beautiful and you only want to spin on them.
FM: Do you invite shops and vendors? If yes, what do they have to do and sell to participate?
CU: We have some shops at Phoenix but only shops we know and who bring good quality to the market. The only fees they have to pay are the prices for the Phoenix-Games! We need 10 prices for the 10 winners of the Phoenix-Games. The biggest prices this year was a portable fire Contact Staff, a Red/Gold Polypro Bendy Wick/Fire Hoop and Fans in the shape of a Phoenix.
FM: You have some impressive infrastructure – for example the ground set-up / floor. What’s the main purpose of that?
CU: We have for the fire space B1 safety carpet in some nice colors. A few years ago at another fire festival in Germany the fire department said: You can only do a fire space when all the ground is covered with a fire safe carpet. Useless on earth ground -.- But it was super nice to spin barefoot on them and so we managed to have a lot of safety carpet for some fire festivals in Germany!
FM: Are there any other unusual parts of your infrastructure you’d like to tell us about?
CU: The whole core organization are only 4 persons, all the other parts of the festival is done by other fire crews like the implementation of the fire space, massage, workshop tables, decoration and much more.
FM: What are your biggest challenges with making this festival run smoothly? How do you handle them, and how do you handle typical festival challenges like rain, safety, etc?
CU: Smoothly? As an organizer a festival never runs smoothly for you. You run from point A to B to solve problems that happened at point Y. But in the night when the fire is burning and the safety’s doing a good job, you can grab your prop and go burn and enjoy time with friends (as an organizer too). Rain? Have you ever seen super heavy rain and a full fire space? No? Then come to Phoenix. We have good fuel 🙂 . We also have a big tent, trees and a chill-out space, but for 2016 we have to think about more sheltered spaces because we are growing. Safety? Come on, we are in Germany. We don’t have to talk about safety and rules 🙂
FM: What kind of music do you play?
CU: We try to play a lot of different genres of music on the fire space, for example Dubstep, DnB, Psytrance, Electro Swing, Rock and Balkan style. We had 9 different DJ’s/Spinners that played their sets at Phoenix. We have a DJ timetable so everyone knows when their favorite sound comes. One thing not to forget is that we’ve asked the community for 3 years now for their favorite tracks and asked people to put them in a playlist on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.
We sometimes play this music in the day time to have some nice sounds.
FM: Tell us about the safety protocol during the festival. I noticed you have 3 safeties at any given time. What is the maximum number of spinners you allow in the fire circle at one time?
CU: We have 3 safety spots and on every spot are two volunteers, they get couches to sit and watch 🙂 This year we were around 20-25 people at the same time on the fire space, but the people want to burn more so we have to make the space bigger for next year.
FM: We would love to know more about the prop fueling and spinning off protocol of our friends in Germany. Do you have any photos or can you describe the process?
CU: We use highly cleaned petroleum to burn, its not as smoke free as white gas but it’s fine. It has a lot of other advantages, for instance it doesn’t burn directly – it has more a wicking function and is safer for users.
The fueling procedure:
- You take your prop
- You dip your prop in the big tank of petroleum
- You put your prop into a shake-off-bucket/tin
- You shake your prop in the shake-off area
- If the bucket has fuel in it, put it back into the tank
- Go burn!
Directly after your burn you go and quick dip your prop in the quick dip area and go burn again! When you quick dip too long or your kevlar is old you have to shake off again so as to not throw fuel around yourself while you spin.
FM: Can I ask why there are two different procedures?
CU: To avoid a traffic jam 😛 . We have a lot of spinners there so we need more tanks for different usage.
The quick dip tank gets warmer because a lot of hot tools are going into it, but it never ignites because we use petrol, not white gas.
FM: What exciting things or changes are coming to Phoenix fire festival in the future?
CU: We might want to open a second fire space with different music (needs double light, double music, double safety, double fuel). Or we burn down the whole mountain 🙂 . These are for sure the biggest changes that can happen.
FM: Lol, those are some pretty big changes. And if the FIRE mag community wants to get in touch, or support you, how can they do that?
CU: e-mail: email@example.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/phoenixfireconvention
Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/Phoenixfireconvention
A very special thanks to our guest Christian Unger, all organizers and volunteers of Phoenix Convention, and the featured photographers: See Your Design and Third Eye Generation. Thanks for tuning in FIRE Mag reader!
Be well and burn bright!
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