Every Fourth of July, sizeable crowds descend upon Memorial Park to see the Springs' most famed fireworks display. This patriotic celebration involves a show of light and color set to a live Colorado Springs Philharmonic performance of the 1812 Overture. Producing that kind of show takes months of work, though — and it starts with the choreographer.
Gary Caimano of Oklahoma-based fireworks company Western Enterprises choreographs the Memorial Park show like any other stage performance.
"You think of fireworks, and people think of bombs. I don't," he says. "I think of them as characters. ... They have a property, they have a personality, they have a chemistry — some get along with others, and others hate each other."
That being the case, it takes no small amount of planning to balance loud with quiet, flashes with lingering light and high-altitude bursts with lower bursts, to say nothing of colors. Going from commission to display takes months of planning.
Randy Jensen and the company he's owned for the past 15 years, Aurora-based Fireworks Extraordinaire, start planning for Independence Day in April. Among other shows in the area, his company does the Fourth of July display for the Garden of the Gods Club. That show, which lasts around 10 minutes, uses 1,200 shells. Typically, Jensen says, his shows start from a budget.
"Rule of thumb is around $1,000 a minute, and that gives you a good show," he says. The shells used in a show are picked based on what the company has in stock and can afford to buy. They also have to consider space — how far is the audience from the fireworks?
"You have to figure 100 feet per inch of shell," he says. Owing to the tight space he has to work with at the Garden of the Gods Club, the show uses shells no larger than 4 inches across. In places like Steamboat Springs, where the shells launch off a mountain, he can use shells as big as 16 inches across.
Caimano's company sets shows to music, which adds another consideration — and another opportunity to wow the audience.
"The music dictates everything," he says. And it's not all about riding on the energy and bombast in a song. Some of the most beautiful shows he's seen or produced were set to slower, more lyrical music. He even scored a show to Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" for a retiring NASA engineer.
"I'll get rock 'n' roll into everything I can, but visually, it's the more lyrical pieces that really challenge," he says. "Coldplay is [a favorite] because it's so lyrically suggestive. You play between the lines in Coldplay." He also cites artists like Barbra Streisand, Enya and John Tesh as favorites, with Celtic Woman's "O, America" standing out as a personal favorite.
"[It's the] most beautiful I've ever heard in my life, and the most visual thing I've seen done with fireworks," he says.
But the Memorial Park show presents its own challenge with the live music. For that, Western Enterprises sends out the company president, Jim Burnett. He has a background in music and conducts the fireworks show live so that it stays in sync.
"The most important part of this all, it's a collaborative effort," says Caimano. "I don't care how beautifully designed a show I make is, when it leaves my hands, it's not my show anymore. It's in the hands of everybody else."