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Bringing the Heat

So you're broke, and your sweetheart expects a romantic Valentine's Day date--and you can't go "urban exploring" through the canals again. Seriously. It's Valentine's Day.

Instead, take that special somebody down to the Flam Chen pyrotechnic theatre troupe's Valentine's Day cabaret benefit show--and for a mere $8, you'll probably still get lucky.

"Anyone who goes to this show will definitely get laid," laughs Nadia Hagen, one of Flam Chen's founding members. "Fire makes people crazy."

The troupe will perform "Love 'n Hate at the Chickin Sisters' Ranch," a whimsical, narrated pantomime show with some flowers, plenty of fire and an antagonist named Sheriff Yah-Yah, says Paul Weir, Flam Chen's technical director.

"It's about relationships, in a weird way," says Weir.

Adds Hagen, who wrote and directs the happy-ending show: "It's very sweet; it's kind of a love story. It's really corny; it's really goofy. ... It's a good Valentine's piece."

The show is a fundraiser for Many Mouths One Stomach (Flam Chen's nonprofit wing) to help pay off debts from the 2008 All Souls Procession, says Weir, who is also on the MMOS board of directors.

MMOS and Flam Chen have enlisted the help of several bands, including freaky gothic surf-rock locals The Mission Creeps, Moroccan flamenco fusion band Brisas del Mar, and Calle Debauche, an energetic blend of reggae, ska, disco and pop sounds. Hey, they might get your date all hot and bothered before the fire show even starts.

"It's like a circus for the love of your life," says Weir, a buff, biker-looking guy dressed in black, from his boots to his fuzzy sweater, who looks strangely at home in the Flam Chen practice space surrounded by stilts, colorful costumes and fire extinguishers.

If you've never seen Flam Chen perform, you're missing one of the greatest shows in Tucson: They play with fire. They eat and breathe fire. They flirt with death, spin and twirl hundreds of feet in the air, dangling from wires attached to cranes or giant balloons. They dance on stilts in elaborate costumes and dazzle audiences with a tango too weird for words. They are part of the heart and soul of the diverse wonder that is the Tucson art scene.

"I'd like to think what Flam Chen does is provide a picture of what art means to a community, what art can mean to a community," says Hagen. "I'd like to think that what it gives people is inspiration, something beautiful and maybe some escape."

Hagen and Weir have traveled the world with their shows--this year alone, they will perform pyrotechnic theatre shows from Montreal to Zacatecas, Mexico--and while other cities may have a larger audience and an environment more open to theater and fire dancing, Tucson is still home.

"There's this sense of being in a place where something is born," Hagen says. "And as an artist, to be in that place where a movement or an idea or something new really becomes manifested, really grows in a community, what more could you want?"

Flam Chen's biggest community event is the Dia de los Muertos Festival and the All Souls Procession. Flam Chen is the group that puts on the elaborate finale at the end of the procession and, along with MMOS, helps organize the entire weekend.

"People come out, and there are 10,000 people in the street, and for people in Tucson, it's a (revelation)," Hagen says. "People are like, 'Oh my God.' They've never seen anything like that, ever."

The Valentine's Day cabaret show is one of the many ways MMOS and Flam Chen use to pay off the inevitable debts accrued after each Dia de los Muertos weekend. This year, despite collecting roughly $46,000 in grants and donations, organizers ended up owing the Tucson Police Department roughly $5,000 for security, Weir says.

Weir says he doesn't mind taking on the debt in addition to the massive project of organizing and producing the festival.

"We're working hard to keep working hard," he says with a big grin.

When they're not traveling, practicing, preparing for next year's All Souls Procession or recovering financially from last year's procession, Flam Chen frequently performs benefit shows to raise money for various local and national organizations. Supporting the community is part of the troupe's main focus--and they're hoping the community will help support them this weekend.

"We still need everyone's help, and this is a good way to do it," Weir says. "Eight bucks is cheap. Have a couple of beers, and it's still under $30 for a date."

Flam Chen's Valentine's Cabaret starts at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave. Admission is $8. All proceeds go toward paying the remaining debt from the 2008 All Souls Procession. For more information, visit the Flam Chen or MMOS Web sites.

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