On Saturday night on the Quad, an illuminated audience fueled the Barefoot Monkeys. Their annual fire show was going on for a crowd of entranced students and parents alike. The Monkeys wore all black, and with hardly any light coming from the dorms, it looked like fire was floating above the grassy expanse of the Residential Quad.
Their fire performance consisted of twelve acts of everything from spinning poi, twirling staffs, jumping through hula hoops and juggling, with all the equipment doused in fuel and lit on fire. At one point, Monkeys wearing white shirts showcased a balancing act under blue lights, and later, they incorporated the balancing while at the same time juggling fire.
The Monkeys’ acts are as assorted as the members that make up their group. Michael Sankovich ’15, member of the org said, “The Monkeys are one of the weirdest groups on campus. We’re a really diverse group.” Despite their many differences, the Monkeys must be one of the most unified troops on campus in order to preform their stunts.”
He went on to emphasize the level of trust and harmony that must exist among members for the group’s success. Sankovich added, “Many of the acrobatics they do are worthy of professional circus acts. Many of their acts require complete synchronization on every level between partners. Especially when working with fire, the Monkeys are adamant about safety. During their rehearsals, while the Monkeys were working a lot on choreography and scene transitions, their main priority was to make sure everyone was safe.
“We also have one of the most, if not the most, stringent safety regulations of all the fire groups that we know.” During the performance, there were always safeties waiting on the edge of the stage. These were Monkeys ready and waiting with Duvaline towels, which the Monkeys call “duvies,” to put the torches out. Those in the performance have to wear clothes with at least 80 percent all-natural fibers, like cotton, in order to reduce the possibility of burns.
Anyone with long hair French-braids it, and anyone with hair spritzes it with water: another precaution to prevent singeing and more serious injuries.
Four years ago, despite all of the regulations, a student caught herself on fire during the show. While it looked scary, Sankovich said she was more shocked than hurt. “We try not to talk about it very much,” he said. “What happened A) is not typical, and B) was not as severe as the student population made it out to be. It was a very minor incident.”
Gregory Losalzo ’15 pointed out that with all of their precautions, the situation was handled very well. “It looked terrifying, but there were four safeties on her immediately, and she was fine. And I want to impress that on anyone who sees this.”
He went on to say that there may have been some confusion among the student body about what really happened. “The problem is, she transferred to a different school that summer. So people thought she was still hospitalized and mortally wounded.” To put that rumor to rest he said, “So she was hospitalized for a day because you should be hospitalized if you have a terrifying experience. She was back in school the day after.”
Sankovich added that since that situation, the Monkeys may have had a false bad reputation concerning the incident. “You would think the girl’s face got burned off when in actuality it was a minor accident that didn’t cause any lasting pain,” he said.
The Monkeys perform the fire show every year during Freshman Families Weekend so parents can have a taste of what some of their kids have been up to while away at college. The second act featured freshmen that, only ten days ago, had started playing with fire.
Amanda Ma ’17 was performing for the second time this year. She said that, when she first joined, she had no idea what was in store for her. “I never knew fire was a thing,” Ma said, “I never thought I would join the Monkeys: my roommate first got me into the Monkeys and then I just joined them.”
Once the freshmen have joined the Monkeys, though, they are informed about the different, important safety regulations. Ali Sagliocca ’16 said that the Monkeys are very careful when introducing newcomers to fire. “They have to sign a form before they start fire,” she said. They also go through a training session just on how to safely handle fire and handle themselves around fire. The week leading up to this performance was full of nightly practices where the Monkeys would often run through their full lineup twice, however.
Julia Schmidt ’17 said, “This fire show has hell week just like any other show.” During the rehearsals, the main goal is not necessarily to get everything perfectly right, however: The Monkeys are all about having fun.
At one point during the fire juggling act, one of the jugglers caught a flaming torch tossed from a good distance away over the heads of the other Monkeys. After that catch, Sagliocca said, “it doesn’t even matter what happens after that. That was awesome.”
Because their show is outside, the weather dictates whether or not the show can go on. Lauren Huang ‘15 said that they try not to let the weather stop them. Last year, however, the rain would have made the performances too dangerous. “Last year, the ground got too slippery due to rain for balancing and acrobatics, so that’s what happened. Otherwise, weather doesn’t really stop the show.” On Saturday, the show went on without conflicts of any kind.
For freshmen watching the show for the first time, it was an experience worth remembering. Kyle Gray ’18, who attended, said, “If I had that coordination I would absolutely consider joining the Monkeys. Their show was spectacular and awe-inspiring.”