Neal Webb has only been on the Gold Coast for a few years and he came here from the UK via the Philippines at that. A plumber and scuba dive master by trade, he’s had what you might call a baptism of fire when it comes to breaking into the entertainment industry. He chatted to Samantha Morris about his very grand vision and the need to raise $20,000 to bring it to fruition.
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I have to be honest and say I’ve never interviewed a dancer before, let alone one that dances with fire. How the hell do you even become a fire dancer? Neal Webb tells me that for him it was nearly accidental. He was working in the Philippines as a dive master and the hotel next to his dive shop saw him dancing with fire on the beach and started booking him for their entertainment.
“I made some money and that escalated until we were touring the Philippines and making music videos and I thought: this is a lot better than plumbing. We flew to Ibiza, set up an entertainment company and then came to Australia about two / two and a half years ago.”
His company, Energy Entertainments works around the Gold Coast performing at a range of venues and for a range of clients – including conferences and corporate events. Neal says he finds other performers who are good at what they do and then choreograph the shows together. Those shows involve so much more than fire, too.
“That could be drummers, musicians or fire artists,” he said. I’ve only seen Neal and his troupe perform once, although I’ve heard about his work plenty of times. At the performance I witnessed, which was at a private party at The Avalon, they were atop shipping containers and art installations with tribal beats and sparks flying up to ten metres in the air. It was, in a word, incredible.
Even more so when you consider that Neal (like most fire artists) is self-taught. But he’s had this idea he’s been harbouring for a few years now, and that involves getting back to the roots of fire dancing.
“We went on Britain’s Got Talent,” he tells me. “Biggest shambles you’ve ever seen. And it got me thinking that I’m so fed up with mainstream bullshit, I just want to get raw, get back to the roots of it all.”
“I had this idea to find the heart of fire dancing and I knew that Polynesian culture was really strong. I actually met Bobby (he points to Charles Wall who is also in the Blank office for an interview) on a plane and I find out from his mum that his uncle does fire dancing.”
“So me and my girlfriend did a show in Hawaii in the Rip Curl house and while I was there I wanted to find the roots of fire culture. They don’t just do fire dancing at the end of their fire sticks, they have knives and the elders used to sharpen their knives as well. Its very warrior orientated instead of entertainment and it’s so thick in the culture.”
It turns out that during that stay Neal and his girlfriend met the world champion fire dancer. “We gelled so well. I went training with the family and performed with them in a five star resort,” he said. So Neal’s plan to get back to the roots of fire dancing now include going back and staying with those people.
“They’ll teach me traditional arts, take me to competitions and we’ll capture it all on film along the way,” he said.
But visions like this don’t come cheap. As well as Neal and his girlfriend who will work as the sound designer for the project and accompany documentary, he’s working with 21 year old Gold Coast film-maker Elijah Cavanagh who has his own studio in Burleigh.
“The project is all three of us,” Neal said. “We need $20,000 to cover travel, expenses while we’re there as well as pre- and post-production for filming. We need funds to enter competitions and to travel around the different islands.”
“We want to see if there’s a difference between different cultures over there. And then the plan is, after this, to do a different culture – maybe go to Fiji or maybe take it to Africa – there are many tribes around the world that celebrate fire.”
“Our aim is to find out where it actually originated from, because really, it’s made, isn’t it?”
As well as an online crowdfunding campaign, Neal is hosting Heart of Fire at The Dust Temple. The event will include live music from his friends Juzzie Smith, Matthew Armitage and Mitch King as well as live fire shows La Fuente Fire and Fire Beats. Tickets are only $25 and the event takes place Thursday 5 March from 6.00pm.
Neal gushes when I ask him about his connection to the Dust Temple.
“I met them when I first arrived here. I actually had a meeting there with a plumber, there. And I turned up and I was like ‘ man, this place is incredible” and I met John and I met Isla and told them I did fire shows. And I’ve done a couple of shows there now and I just love it,” he said. “And since then, we’ve really just become good friends.”
See Neal perform next week, and help raise the $20,000 he needs to get to Hawaii and beyond.
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Heart of Fire | Thursday 5 March, 6.00 – 11.00pm
The Dust Temple, 54 Currumbin Creek Road
Donate to Neal’s Kickstarter appeal here.