The Voodoo Priestess: Burdetta Jackson
1) When did you first begin playing with fire and what was it that made you want to start?
I first began playing with fire in 2004. I was sitting down with a new friend of mine named Heather that I met at work (she is now one of my dearest and most loved friends). After a night of laughing and having fun in her back yard she started telling me about the group of women she had begun performing with and who had become family to her. When I told her I had no idea what fire dancing was, she promptly grabbed her tools, dipped them in some fuel and gave me a show. I was astounded and so drawn to it. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It's actually bringing tears to my eyes just thinking about it. When she asked what I thought, I told her that I needed to learn how to spin fire immediately. A love affair had been born. I started by meeting the women of Sirena Serpentina (her fire troupe) and then began taking lessons with them. It just kind of took off from there.
2) When and where was your first official fire performance?
I don't remember to tell the truth. I believe that it was with my first troupe named Akasha. We put on a show outside of a bar I believe. At least that's the first show that I remember having to come up with choreography and music. It seems so very long ago now. It could of also been with the ladies of Sirena. Once I became confident in my performance I began performing with them if they needed an extra dancer or if one of their members weren't able to make a performance. Every now and then I'm still blessed with the opportunity to spin fire with those lovely ladies. It's like going home....
3) What was the first apparatus you learned?
First thing that I learned was Poi. I practiced and learned moves for 8 months before I lit up. When I did light up I spun for maybe 30 seconds before I handed off my poi to another spinner. I wasn't prepared for the noise the fire made. There's this huge "WOOSH" sound that felt almost deafening to me the first time I spun. It freaked me out! Funnily it's now the sound that brings me comfort and makes me feel better about the world and my place in it.
4) How many different apparatuses have you performed with?
Goodness... I spin poi, sword, fans, parasol, fire flesh, fire eat, fire breathe.
5) What precautions go into each performance?
I always check my tools and make sure that all of the fastenings are tight. Fire is unpredictable but the tools are easily controlled if you take precautions. The last thing you want is a Poi Ball head flying into a crowd when you're performing. It's also important to me to make sure that my fuel station is set up properly and all tools are laid out for the performance. There's no room for error when it comes to spilling fuel or getting to stage late for a cue because you couldn't find your fans. And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make sure that I spin with a safety. The safeties are the most important people at a performance. They are the first responders if we catch fire and are unable to put ourselves out.
I also, try to focus in on the task at hand as much as I can. Whatever is going on in the outside world has to wait. When I'm spinning it's just me, the fire and any partner I may have. There's no room for any troubles waiting outside that world.
6) What do you do to prepare for a performance?
For a performance like Dark Harbor prep begins about 6 months before the gig. I begin talking with the DH production team about what direction the event is going into and how they see us fitting into it. We then begin looking at the theme of our show and music choices. All of this happens before we even go into auditions for any open slots we may have on the team. From there we go into building and perfecting the show before opening day; this includes brainstorming sessions, rehearsals and so much more. I like to come to the fire team with a basic skeleton of what the show will look like and then fill in the blanks together so that we all have something that we're proud of.
If we're talking immediately before a performance then after going through safety checks and making sure the team is all there I usually take the time to take a couple of deep breaths and put myself into the game. Like I said above, fire is unpredictable. I like to run through the performance and be as prepared as I can for what may happen.
7) How many years have you been with Dark Harbor?
I want to say five... but it may be six years. I'm unsure. We are Dark Harbor's original fire team. Elyse originally found the ad for the audition on Craig's List and the two of us went in together. We were the only ones who came with safety equipment and were concerned that no one else had any, so we stayed and safetied everybody's fire audition. When DH asked us to be part of the fire team they had never worked with fire before, so they didn't know about pulling permits for gigs and doing tool run throughs with the Fire Marshal's. I began talking logistics and letting them know all of the things that went into a public performance and that's how I became the Fire Team Captain. From there Elyse and I built the first fire team. Elyse and I are actually the only original members who are still at Dark Harbor, with Itzel being the third oldest member still remaining. She joined us the year that Voodoo began.
Our first year at Dark Harbor we were a band of monster gypsies that performed for the crowd. That year we only had 10 performance dates. I forget whether we spent another year playing the same role, or if the following year was when David approached me with the opportunity to be the Priestess. I know that I jumped at it as soon as he did. LOL! We then became the Voodoo Priestess and her tribe. We now perform several times a night every night that Dark Harbor is open.
8) How often do you practice with your Dark Harbor crew?
We don't get together as a group outside of haunt season that often actually.
I'm lucky because I get to see individual team members for different things. Elyse is one of my best friends, so I'm with her often. Itzel is a very dear friend of mine as well, so I make a point to keep up with her and see her whenever I can. Blake and I have done a couple of projects together outside out of Dark Harbor as well. I don't get to see the other members anywhere near as much as I would like to. I adore every single member of our DH fire family and really want to make it a point for us all to get together more often.
9) What does it feel like being on stage performing? And what do you think when you look out into the audience and see them responding in a positive way to your show?
I've been a performer since I was a child. Whether on or off stage, I have something in me that allows me to "turn on" for a crowd. I grew up modeling and in theatre, so embodying a character is ingrained in me. I live for the stage. There's something about becoming somebody or something else, even if for a brief time, that's magical.
We don't always get to see the crowd when we're on stage due to the lights and the fire itself, but when we do, it's amazing knowing that your hard work is being appreciated. We are fire dancers, but at our core we're performers who have worked very hard to put a story and a show together for the crowd. There's a flow to it all and a reason behind everything we do. As Captain, I get to watch the majority of the performances from the side lines, which means I also get to hear the crowd comments and watch their faces. I am lucky to contract an outstanding team of professionals for Dark Harbor. They know how to wow a crowd. The biggest measure for me is when we not only catch the guests eye, but we hold it. Our performance is roughly 30 minutes in the middle of an awesome haunt event. The fact that we often catch and can keep a crowd for the full half hour proves to me that our hard work is being appreciated.
10) Is there a permit or certification required to perform with fire?
There are no permits or certifications required just to light up at a casual event, though sometimes I think there should be. LOL! Anybody can become a fire spinner, but to be a proper public performer there are channels that need to be gone through. We all carry fire insurance which protects us from any liabilities that may happen. We also work with Dark Harbor and pull a permit for the event. Not all performers do this for every public performance they're a part of. I would suggest that before signing a contract a performer always check with local Fire Marshals about what is required for them to legally gig at that location. It can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
11) In your opinion, what separates a skilled performer from a natural performer?
Hmmmmm... this is a difficult question to answer as mine may not be a popular outlook. I believe that you are either a performer or you aren't. In my opinion there is a difference between a fire spinner and a fire performer. I've seen amazing tech spinners pull off moves that I've never dreamt of, however when it comes to performing, they fall flat. I've seen beautiful women think that if they put on booty shorts and trail fire along their body that makes them a performer. A true fire performer knows how to engage and capture a crowd. They pull you into the performance and make you a part of their world. For me... a good performer makes me feel something, they leave me wanting for more.
12) How much further would you like to take your performance? Is there anything you haven't tried/mastered yet that you'd like to perfect?
There are so many things that I would like to do in flow arts. I've promised myself that the upcoming year will be filled with practice, flow jams and opportunities to grow with my tools. I've never claimed to be a master fire dancer, there are definitely moves out there for me to learn. I am extremely lucky to be friends with some talented performers who believe in sharing their gift and keeping the community skilled and growing. I would love to spend more time with them to not only achieve a higher level in my own skill set, but to support them in their craft as well.
13) Any advice for beginning artists/performers?
Be safe. Take the time to ask somebody to spot you before lighting up. If you aren't quite sure how to do a move on fire yet then ask somebody who can give you some insight before trying. You're going to get burned, it's a part of being a fire dancer, but you can keep those burns to a minimum by taking precautions.
Don't beat yourself up because another performer knows more moves or gets more gigs than you do. There is always room for growth in your craft, if you want to level up just put in the effort and know that you'll get there in the time frame that works for you. Remember... you are a bad ass! There aren't many people who can allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to get up in front of others and put it all out there. The fact that you are willing to show the world what you have makes you unique, never forget that.
Most importantly, have fun! Your art is your own to do whatever you please with it. Figure out what that is and shine!