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Choreographer: ‘Everybody’s an artist; we paint the sky’

Zambelli Fireworks crew gets ready for spectacular display tonight at Kirby Park.

Robert Madison, right, directs Nick Richards as the Zambelli Fireworks crew sets up the launching tubes, or ‘guns,’ on Friday for tonight’s fireworks show in Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre.

Don Carey photos/The Times Leader

Casey Corol of Zambelli Fireworks, based in New Castle, Pa., sets up a fireworks launching-tube formation on Friday.

WILKES-BARRE – The four-man crew from Zambelli Fireworks arrived just before 3 p.m. on Friday, minutes ahead of the rolling thunder and lightning that foreshadowed what they had come to unleash.

The men had driven from western Pennsylvania – one contingent of about 800 working this weekend as emissaries of one of America’s oldest and largest fireworks outfits – to produce a show tonight on the Susquehanna River, the effect of which required them to use an expletive to properly convey.

After a roughly 20-minute rain delay, the guys began disgorging their large rental truck of its launching tubes, sized variously from 10-tube racks for 3-inch shells to four-tube racks for 6-inch shells. As they went, Robert Madison, generally charged with choreographing the mayhem, scanned the numbers on his sheet and began organizing launch setups on the fly – over here, a capital ‘I” of 3-inch racks capped on each end by 5-inchers for the intro; down there, a pile of 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-inch racks that will comprise the finale.

The beginning will pop, Madison explained, and then the body of the show will develop into a massive display of constant explosions. “You want it to start a little docile and grow,” he said, pointing on his sheet to the numbers of shells ordered. The process goes that the customer – the city – provides a basic framework, including shots in each section of the show and an overall length. The crews take it from there. “We go ahead and get creative,” Madison said. “Everybody’s an artist; we paint the sky.”

He informs Tony Kascek, who leads the crew, that he’ll pretty much be lighting off cakes of fireworks throughout the show, a whole “garbage pile-full of them.” Even the mid-finale calls for multiple cakes of nearly 50 shots each. “That is a badass finale. There’s no (other) way to put it,” Madison says. “It’s going to last a while.”

But creativity doesn’t always trump practicality. The guys are a long way from their western Pennsylvania homes, and they’ve got two more shows to do in the next week. Before any of the launching tubes were removed, the first thing off the truck was a propane grill. Kascek said it would get used at least twice – steaks and corn on the cob Friday night and chicken wings, baked beans and hotdogs for tonight.

“It’s cheaper to bring the food than to go out and eat,” he said. And anything saved is money earned. The crew is paid 10 percent of the show’s cost – which, for Wilkes-Barre, was $10,000, Kascek said – and that gets divvied up among the members.

For Kascek, it’s been a part-time labor of something-like-love for 17 years, ever since his curiosity got the better of him. One innocuous question posed to a fireworks crew in 1992 led to an invitation to help out with an Independence Day show, and “I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Kascek, who works as a truck driver and pastry chef the rest of the year.

In fact, the entire team has regular employment in disparate fields. Madison, who’s in his eighth season with Kascek, trains truckers for their commercial driving licenses, Casey Corol, with about six years of professional fireworks experience, is a special-education teacher and Nick Richards, in his second year, works various odd jobs.

But when the weather warms, grills come out and sky-painting season returns, the guys know they’ll soon be seeing each other – rolling into towns again, just ahead of the lightning and thunder.


9 p.m.: Fireworks at Kirby Park, Wilkes-Barre; Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic at 7:30 p.m.

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