The project began in the spring of 2005 when the founding members of Interpretive Arson came up with the idea. We knew for sure we were doing it when we accepted the “Pile of Pennies Art Grant Disaster” from the now defunct BORG2 project. This was literally $1000 in pennies. It took us ages to roll and cash them all. After initial experiments with a flamethrower chocolate cake, we threw a fund-raiser called Tastee Flame which was, naturally, full of flaming food. Even so, the original team kicked in thousands of dollars of personal money to pull off the project. We spent months in our secret Oakland warehouse building everything from fireproof dance pads to a huge projection screen to custom software to the flamethrowers themselves. DDI is a complicated thing, especially because of the elaborate safety systems. But don’t worry. We’re professionals. We do this sort of thing all the time.We debuted an early test version at the Fire Arts Festival in Oakland in July 2005. Not much worked, but we did shoot the general public with fire, and people were excited. We went back to the lab, added a second player, redesigned and rebuilt almost every component, lost a lot of sleep, and finally brought the full system to Burning Man in August 2005 where, much to our surprise, just about everything worked flawlessly. At that point we went home, took showers, and slept a lot.
But people loved it.
“You couldn’t possibly do this in America,” someone told us.
Well, we’re doing it. (In fact, DDI is completely legal, having been built to NFPA 160 specifications for “flame effects in front of an audience.”) These days we bring DDI out for festivals and other special events. It arrives by truck, takes one full day to set up, and a rotating crew of about ten trained people to run (one MC, one machine operator, four dressers to get people in and out of the suits, one gate/signup person, a supervisor, a few security.) At full tilt we consume about 100 lbs of propane per hour. It’s so worth it.