As I focus my smoke-shot eyes through the last sip of my 3 AM cocktail, I see the blurred out flash of what could only be a mass of flame. Immediately thoughts of Coconut Grove swell in my head and the 100 plus decibels of hip-hop garbles to a stop as the soundtrack of "The Omen" pumps into the generally dazed ambiance of the late-nighters.

My initial panic gradually gives way to fascination as I realize I am not witnessing a horrible electrical mishap, nor spontaneous combustion, but rather a highly skilled performance. The sinewy 6'2", 160-lbs. performer is a fire artist, sponsored by Caffeine Clothing, and because of his thin frame and penchant for black & white greasepaint, is often compared to Marilyn Manson.

True, his influences do come from a Rock and Roll aesthetic, and this former audio engineer/Hollywood casting agent is a self-proclaimed "part of the Rock God Heavy Metal era" whose pyrotechnical mantra of showmanship has always been 'bigger is better'.

His combustible form of art came onto the NY club scene during the Golden Era in NY nightlife, and continues to light up various spots in Manhattan to this day.

He doesn't eat fire, he doesn't breathe fire, he's an arson acrobat who holds, throws and twirls it in the air, combining dance and juggling with a 'Fred Astaire' elegance. His name is Ted Pugliese, but his audiences know him as Ted.E. or simply 'the fire guy'.

"I'm not the Siamese double headed being, or the kid in the glass jar." remarks the 20-something Ted who also likes ginko cereal because "it's good for your colon". Native of Queens, he now lives in Bayville, Long Island where he commutes weekly to his Manhattan life of fire.

Manhattan (once spiritual ground for our Native American predecessors) is the original magical mystical realm of the legendary NYC nightlife.

 

An environment in which Ted works with other performers "of a very high-class-underground-anarchy level of entertainment" at area clubs. Always on the lookout for new performers to integrate into the loose- knit roster of sideshow style attractions he manages, his current associates include sword-swallowers, glass-walkers, contortionists, tap dancers and swing dancers.

click here for quicktime movie of Ted's performance"The more I've analyzed my own past life, me putting on clown make-up and dressing up like a jester isn't a shock" says Ted, it's a natural progression from a kid who grew up into Dungeons & Dragons, wizards and the mythical.

"I've managed to make my dreams and my imagination part reality" and entertain throngs of club-goers at the same time.

At 23, he packed up & moved to LA where his experience in sound production and a lucky break landed him a gig as casting director for major Hollywood shows like 'Larry Sanders', 'Sister Sister', and 'Talk Radio'. On the side, he continued to hone his skills with flames, but his act was not well received because in general, Californians "are terrified of fire, especially in LA".

Sensing a lack of support for his craft, he figured "the only person in LA that could help me out would be Perry Farrell" of Jane's Addiction and Porno For Pyros fame. So at a Hallow's Eve bash put on by Porno For Pyros he snuck backstage to hunt down his idol. He presented his proposal and was added to the line up. "My whole life I'd been wondering how the hell you get on the big stage...I was like, oh, all you have to do is ask?"

As easy as that may seem, this was his start. He was noticed by the Fun Lovin' Criminals who also were part of the bill, and linked up with them back to the NY scene, where he always knew he would return.

A registered member of the Antigravity talent referral agency, Ted, up until a few years ago, "had no idea that dressing up with make-up and extending one's body through movement had a name called Performance Art". He just thought he was having a good time, until he was discovered and hired by the owner of the now defunct Caffeine-VooDoo club in Long Island who saw his act at a street fair.

He soon branched out and performed with bands in a mini Lolla-palooza type fringe act called Lunatic Soup with "all sorts of maniacs", and linked up with former college mates The Atomic Babies to brand his magic on their tour. For the winter music conference in Miami '97 the Babies flew Ted in to perform in his Light costume; a full blown battery operated incarnation of imagination. "The suit lit up for 2 seconds, the bass bins blew, and I had to shut down."

Not dampened by his difficulties, he went back to the drawing board. He rebuilt the suit and presented it at Sony big wig Tommy Mottola's Halloween party at Shine in '98.

The crowd response was fantastic; enough to encourage further work on the suit, and the concept. Shine, also was responsive to his talents and proved to be the perfect environment for his pursuits, hiring him as both performer and stage manager.

The past year has been a busy one for flammable feats. Ted has lit up the Phish Phestival, was interviewed for a feature on E! Entertainment, as well as by VH1 at Ivy Supersonic's 'Naked Feather-hat Wedding'. He has also joined up with the Brooklyn based action figure design firm Art Asylum, who are helping with the construction of his forthcoming stage sets.

 

As for the future? "Devil sticks aren't going to last forever, I'm looking to get my own 'Stomp', my own off-Broadway show" that is a choreographed performance with light-suit clad dancers set to a live Drum & Bass/Techno orchestration. If all goes according to plan, the show will be out just in time for the Millenium. "I have the future of what Performance Art could be in the palm of my hand. But [then again] maybe I'm wrong, and maybe I'll end up having to be a cook somewhere."

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