By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks
Not many people can say that they’ve played with fire and didn’t get burned, but object manipulation performer Mike Guymon can say just that.
Mike, a massage therapist, was brought into the art of object manipulation by one of his friends. “My friend, Joe, picked it up at a yoga retreat that he went to,” Mike explained. “I immediately fell in love with it. I went from having a slight introduction to it to where I would come home from work at 11:00 at night and practice until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.” Mike continued to practice four or five times a week, usually before or after work.
As he worked with poi, Mike began learning about other forms of object manipulation, such as hooping, contact juggling, fire breathing, and so on. They are all different styles under the same umbrella genre of object manipulation.
Mike continued expanding his skills by going to different retreats throughout the country. They go on for several days, starting early in the morning and continue all day, or for as long as their supplies last. “Around 10:00 we’ll bring out the fire equipment and we’ll just keep going,” Mike said. “We can go until anywhere from midnight to 5:00 in the morning.”
The retreats and festivals aren’t what you would usually expect. “They’re definitely catered to people who are interested in object manipulation and learning more.” So while the retreats are not just a show for people, there are always demonstrations and performances going on. Along with performances, the retreats have workshops with guest instructors who teach from their areas of expertise.
Mike himself has taught at a few of the retreats. This past year Mike taught at Fire Drums, an event that brings artists from around the world to perform using different methods of fire performance.
Hundreds of people gather at retreats all across the country, but despite its popularity, it remains mostly hidden. “It’s very much an underground community,” Mike commented on the lack of knowledge about object manipulation. “I could name several very prominent people who have brought it to certain places, or are masters of it, and no one outside of the group will recognize their names.”
Despite this, Mike has made connections all over, including people in California, Missouri, Kansas, and many east coast states. When asked about his own gathering here in Peoria, Lux Orbis and Heart of Illinois Hoopers, Mike said, “We have around 50 people. We started with about 10 to 15 people and it’s definitely been growing.” The Heart of Illinois Hoopers’ Facebook page has members from Peoria, but also from all over the country.
“Facebook is the best way for everyone to keep in touch, rather than texting all the time.” Mike and his group have friends in Bloomington, St. Louis, and Champaign to name a few, and will all stay connected to see events happening around their areas. “If we see something going on with our friends in Bloomington, we’ll go over and perform there and our friends in Bloomington do the same for us.”
The most difficult thing Mike has found so far in his career with object manipulation is recruitment. Mike and his group will practice regularly in public at parks and this is where he gets to meet some new people with an interest in object manipulation. “A lot of times we’ll be practicing and afterwards, people will come up to me and ask about it.”
But it’s not just making connections within the groups that are difficult in recruitment. “It’s really difficult to get people to start working with fire. It’s very beautiful and amazing to watch but it is also a lot more dangerous.” Like most people using fire, Mike makes sure to take all the necessary precautions when performing and practicing, but even then there are some mishaps. “People in this type of art know that if you mess up with a hoop it’s no big deal, but with fire it’s not so forgiving.”
Like all of the performance arts, fire manipulation takes a lot of time and effort to reach a high level of skill. But Mike absolutely loves fire manipulation, and the reward of the results is worth the effort.
For more information about Mike Guymon and his group Lux Orbis, visit their blog at luxorbis.wordpress.com or their Facebook page. For more information about the Heart of Illinois Hoopers, visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/hoi.hoopers.