Firestage fifth anniversary celebration show highlights ambition to push boundaries


Photos by Carolyn Corcoran

“Tonight, you will see things you may have never seen before and may never see again.”

These are the words Ernesto Moncada spoke as he greeted a small crowd Friday night at the fifth-anniversary celebration of “Firestage,” a monthly eclectic variety show and open mic based in Phoenix.

“Firestage,” which Moncada took over in 2008, takes place at art residency space the Firehouse Gallery on Roosevelt and First streets and is a platform for local Phoenix talent and, often, ASU Downtown campus students to present their art.

The fifth-year anniversary event showcased an assortment of talent that wouldn’t necessarily be grouped together at any other venue. Among the lineup was local comedian Shell E. Bachus, who performed at “Firestage” once before. Although Bachus came back because she was invited, she said she has a special appreciation for the Firehouse’s distinct vibe.

“I like that anyone can go up and that (the audience) is receptive,” Bachus said.

The receptive and open-minded outlook seems to be what host Moncada has been aiming to achieve.

“As you can see, this is an open station. We do not filter or edit what is happening here,” Moncada said. “Many of these people are repeat (performers). I get a request and I say ‘yes’ … It’s surprisingly rewarding.”

The former writer and actor has hosted “Firestage” for five years and has worked to maintain the Firehouse’s free-spirited attitude.

“This is the show that I wish I had encountered when I first started out writing and acting. This is a great opportunity to share your art with people who are a little more seasoned,” Moncada said. “You want to try something and are not sure how it’s going to work? You can try it here.”

Many local acts come to “Firestage” to perform for the first time. There is no formal audition process, but the Firehouse does invite talent to come perform.

“If we see you downtown, we may invite you; bands send videos and we have a guy who watches them,” said Kevin Patterson, one of the event organizers. “We have stand-up comics, local bands, fire-flippers … all kind of things up here. We really want to showcase as much of the local art scene as we can.”

Unfortunately, it has been a rocky road to reach Friday’s celebration. Patterson said the city of Phoenix shut down “Firestage” for about a year due to technical issues. One issue was a metal structure that stood above the current stage’s roof, Patterson said.

“We had people be angels on ropes and dancers would hook themselves in and dance on it, but the city claimed that it was not structurally sound … because it wasn’t,” Patterson said. “So we had to take that down, which was debatable.”

“On any given Friday, someone would climb on it. It was pretty amazing,” Patterson said.

Another issue that arose regarded wires and electrical cords running across the building, what Patterson described as “fairly ridiculous, a giant electrical city.”

One last setback involved the stage itself, which the city saw as a fire hazard, Patterson said. Firehouse responded by taking apart the stage, cleaning it out and rebuilding it from scratch.

As these issues were being sorted out, “Firestage” relocated to local restaurant Aside of Heart for a season. Now “Firestage” is back home at the Firehouse. The space is a converted art residency house, where local artists come and stay for periods of time.

The Firehouse, which is located a few blocks away from the ASU Downtown campus, has hosted student performers in the past.

“There are a lot of students who perform in these shows, but I would encourage more,” Moncada said. “We need young blood, and (this is) one of the art forms that always (will need it).”

After five years of ramp-up, the Firehouse is taking more steps to push their boundaries. The organizers of “Firestage” have worked toward hosting a three-day music festival, which will premiere next weekend, Sept. 27.

The new festival, “It Gets Weirdfest!,” will highlight more than 50 local bands and is the biggest event the Firehouse has hosted yet. There will also be performances by poets, sketch comedy groups and live artists.

“We’re going to turn the toilet into a water fountain. It’s going to be a really big thing, and it’s the first event we’ve had on this big of a scale,” longtime volunteer Ivan Chavez said.

Correction: Sept. 23, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the organizers of “Firestage” are organizing the upcoming “It Gets Weirdfest,” which is actually organized by For Us Presents.

Contact the reporter at Kelsey.Hess@asu.edu