Do this on a Friday or Saturday night — almost any night, really. Impress your date, your friends, kids, mom or dad, freak out your dog; it will only cost what you want it to, it’s on the beach, a few feet from the boardwalk in front of World Famous in Pacific Beach, and this act is on fire or at least flaming — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Fire Lane consists of three performers: 23-year-old Jonathan Nowaczyk (or “P.J.” sometimes: a stage name to denote Planet Jemini, of which Fire Lane could be called a brother or sister act); Keane (pronounced Kee-ann-nay) Carlson, 22; and Miss (possibly Ms.) Katie Bunnyrabbitt, aged 30. Carlson and Nowaczyk are the muscle, one might say, as well as the refined talent, while Bunnyrabbitt, the silent and miming “lovely assistant,” provides charm, comedy, and some sophisticated firemoves herself.
Fire Lane will climb all over each other, balancing on the shoulders, hips, biceps, or thighs of their fellow performers in ways that seem unlikely, to say the least (at most, gravity-defying), while toss- or flow-juggling burning brands, spitting fireballs, tottering atop ladders (if not balancing the thing on the bridge of a nose), all the while keeping up a running and calculated alliterative patter of jokes as likely to produce groans as laughs. For example, after executing a move involving Bunnyrabbitt entwined on a bent-backward Nowaczyk between two blue-burning swaths of beach sand as Bunnyrabbitt is flow-juggling fistfuls of slender, flaming iron rods, Carlson, who has been off to the side, is idly tossing flames around and looking bored. He then extinguishes one of them in Bunnyrabbitt’s mouth. And as thanks to the audience for demonstrating restraint and class, he says, “Not one of you said, ‘That’s hot!’ ”
Carlson is addressing an audience growing in numbers, perched on or behind the boardwalk concrete wall. Just after 8 p.m., the crowd consisted of 31 attendees including over a half dozen children. By 9:10 the onlookers number almost 60, drawn from the line awaiting tables at World Famous Seafood, random pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, and those emerging from the underground parking lot. Fire Lane onlookers are exhorted to make a joyful noise and thus steadily increase their numbers throughout the 90-minute show. The sequined top hat is passed twice by Bunnyrabbitt after Nowaczyk points out the appropriate nature of five- and ten-dollar bills. Eyeballing the gaudy circus hat, it appears Fire Lane just may eke out a living at this — at least tonight.
“The key,” Nowaczyk shouts at the fire-fascinated crowd, “to a great fire-eating, -breathing, -juggling, -spinning, acrobatic, balancing, and acro-balancing street show is a great audience! That’s you guys. The bigger and better response all you guys, girls, kids, and dogs give us two guys and one girl who thinks she’s a rabbit, the better we will do for you!” The viewers are encouraged to ooh, ahh, and high-five each other to attract even more viewers. This happens every few minutes as the ranks are swelled. At one point, the crowd is encouraged to watch for “intoxicated bicyclists.”
A volunteer, a teenaged girl with long, straight hair and a convulsive giggle, is selected and given a plastic fireman’s hat and medium-sized fire extinguisher. She is told to retreat exactly 15 feet and 7 inches down the sand while Nowaczyk balances atop an 8-foot metal ladder on a small wooden stage and balances flaming rods on his nose. The audience participation includes warning the performer when his ladder, constantly staggering, approaches the lip of the stage. If the acrobat/juggler’s ladder goes over the edge and into the sand... The image of a tumbled and flaming Nowaczyk and teenaged girl in a goofy hat spraying him with foam occurs in the mind’s eye of every audience member.
The show builds nicely. Instrumental background music pumps from a boom box in the sand. Though the jokes do not improve, oddly, they work very well.
Of the three performers, only Nowaczyk maintains another job: instructing at the Sophia Isadora Academy of Circus Arts, on Park Boulevard in University Heights. Fire Lane will be on hiatus during the month of September but should be back on the beach in October. For more information, try [email protected], myspace.com/planetjemini, sdcircus.com, or call 619-804-7305.
After the show, Keane Carlson discusses what is called “poi spinning,” which involves chains; and Nowaczyk mentions “Pops” Pietro Canestrelli, a circus performer from a long line of same who taught him much. When asked if they’ve ever been hurt in the short time they’ve been at this, Carlson and Nowaczyk alternate answers.
“Does a dancer ever miss a step?”
“Does a musician ever miss a note?”
“Does Dale Earnhardt ever hit the wall?”