The answer was yes. What else can an aspiring pyrotechnic show designer say when he’s offered the opportunity to script a large show using up to 16-inch shells?

In April of 2014, the event coordinator of the Mid Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (and close personal friend Steve Rollins) asked me if I would design the club’s biggest show of the year (a show that needed to be ready by September 27th). Five months might sound like a long time, but when you’re designing a show of this size, time has a nasty habit of running out on you.

The Mid Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG) is a relatively new fireworks club for hobbyists that focuses almost entirely on building fireworks. There are currently about 80 members of this organization that range in skill levels from novice to expert fireworks builders. During the months of April through October, MAPAG holds a 3-day shoot/meeting at Herb Jenkins farm in Virginia on the last weekend of each month.

Herb Jenkins has been hosting fireworks club events now for over 25 years. Before MAPAG began using Herb’s farm for shoots, it was considered the “home site” of one of America’s oldest fireworks clubs—the Crackerjacks. Herb’s farm has seen it all: from 24-inch shells to large girandolas to the amazing pyromusicals designed and choreographed by John Sagaria.

MAPAG regularly receives donations of more than 12,000 pounds of stars, comps, inserts, un-lifted shells, and even some fully completed shells. These pyrotechnic odds and ends, although definitely unusual sometimes, are fully functional and often are built by master shell builders like Grucci or Rozzi fireworks. In this mix we also have things like Japanese made 12-inch shells available to us, as well as an assortment mysterious shells marked “unknown” or “John’s Special” and assorted cases of generic Chinese shells. It was very difficult to put together an accurate inventory of all of the shells, mines and comets that comprised the MAPAG inventory, but I needed to do that in order to decide what fireworks I wanted to use in the show.

Since this was a very fireworks-savvy group (many of who are PGI members and people who own their own display companies) it was a difficult challenge to come up with ideas that none of them had ever seen before. In an attempt to add a little fun to the show, I decided to include 30 member-made rockets, fireballs and even some 1.4G consumer wheels to the mix.

First and foremost, I had to have good music for the show. So, after weeks of brainstorming potential mp4s and editing, I finally came up with a soundtrack I was happy with. Next, I loaded the soundtrack into my Finale fireworks scripting software and proceeded to script over 500 cues. It is essentially impossible, however, to script an entire show without knowing the full inventory of your fireworks and knowing all the colors and effects of the shells you’ll be using. Even so, I was able to script around 500 cues out of an expected 1,163. I was worried, though, that a full inventory MAPAG might take me hundreds of hours I just didn’t have.

Then a huge wrench was thrown into the machinery just as I was finishing up my scripting: I received an email from the club saying it would be nice to dedicate this show to Herb Jenkins and the women of the club who do so much behind the scenes. That was all good and fine, but it meant I now needed to change the completed soundtrack and basically redesign the entire program altogether (with the exception of one song I was determined to keep in the show: “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” by Sawyer Brown). As quickly as I could, I edited 8 songs together into a new 18-minute soundtrack and started scripting all over again.

Because of the sudden changes, and also because I still didn’t have a firm grasp of the inventory, I had to be realistic about what I could accomplish within the timeframe I was given. With this in mind, I concentrated on the two segments of the show I had the most control over and might ultimately have the greatest impact on what I was devising: the finale and the 3rd song, “Burn It To The Ground”. I also decided to end the show differently than most other shows I’ve done by calling it an “epilogue” and punctuating the firing display by firing the show’s one and only 16-inch shell.

The logistics involved in devising a complicated display like this when you are forced to rely on borrowed equipment and volunteer labor can easily become a real nightmare. That wasn’t the case this time, and the credit goes entirely to the incredible members of MAPAG, especially my friends Vinny, Tim, Joe, Chip, Joe and Bob. Oh, let’s not forget my wife, too. Everyone worked together tirelessly to get this show up and running, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their help. I’d also like to give a special thank you to Scott Smith, of COBRA Wireless Firing Systems, for sending Joel and Mike down to help us, and to Tim’s wife, Toni.

As can often happen, one-and-a-half hours before the show was scheduled to begin, we realized our sound system was accidentally left at home. Toni immediately put the PA system into her car and drove off to meet Tim, who was coming in from the opposite direction. Because of their perseverance, the PA system arrived in just enough time to set up and use. With the problems unbeknownst to the audience, the show then went off without a hitch.

The members of MAPAG should be thoroughly commended for putting together such a great weekend event for everyone. The club has really come a long way in the two short years it has been in existence. Seeing the member-made products alone was worth being there for the weekend.

In 2015, the plan is to stage another big September show featuring all member-made fireworks. I can’t wait. It has quickly become my very favorite month of the year.

The following is the soundtrack (18:06) used for my display:

“All My Rowdy Friends” by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Country Boys Can Survive” by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Burn It To The Ground” by Nickelback
“Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” by Sawyer Brown

“You’re My Best Friend” by Queen
“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
“Arise” by E.S. Posthumus
“The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel

60 COBRA modules and the COBRA “Audio Box”
Shells, Mines, and Comets used:

50 – 2.5”
660 – 3”
180 – 4”
100 – 5”
80 – 6”
12 – 8”
6 – 10”
4 – 12”
1 – 16”

3 Wheels, 15 Gerbs, 40 Flame Pots, 9 Strobes, 30 Rockets, 9 Cremora Fireballs, 10 1.4 cakes


Note: Howard Pryda is a member of PGI, MAPAG and NLPC. He has a Delaware shooters license, is a Philadelphia Flame Effect Operator, and has a New Jersey Blasters License.