“I’m just so drawn to this world. I think, honestly, until I’m old I will be doing stuff like this in one way or another. And I know that because I believe that I can so even if there isn’t like a path for me, I will make one.” — Eugenia Gonzales
Leaves billow through the air in orange columns. It’s a blustery, albeit beautiful December day at Freedom Park, Little Five Points. Steadily, we head to the fountain and notice a little boy who mimes flying away in a particularly strong gust of wind.
Eugenia Gonzales uses a large rock for shelter and places a flaming torch on her mouth and lights a second torch with her tongue. This, she tells me is a transfer.
She continues, caressing the fire with her hands, finding a rhythm. She passes the torch along her arm, allowing the smoke to kiss her skin. After a few minutes, she extinguishes the torch with her mouth.
Fire eating is one of the first tricks she learned, Eugenia later explained to me. She also dances with fans, hoops, poi and a variety of props. But given the circumstances, she will only display a few of these — today’s wind is too fierce, too unpredictable to pull out every stop.
When she first got started, she took a basic safety class, and she continues to take precautions by staffing a fire safety partner at all performances.
Wearing the right clothes is another safety step. Excess garments can prove hazardous, so she tends to wear tight garments like corsets and one-pieces. “Less is always better,” she explains.
As she points to scars from where she’s been burnt before, I realize that a fire performer respects the flame as much as they test it. “I burnt my hair. I burnt my skin, yeah. I have a scar right there, [points to left thumb*] and I have a scar there [points to right wrist*]. That’s from a fire hoop. But that was a really high paying job, so it’s okay. It’s worth it in the grand scheme of things,” she says.
Eugenia found this profession by mere coincidence when she began working as a magician’s assistant for an entertainment company in her hometown of Virginia Beach. “It just kind of happened,” she says.
Some of her co-workers were circus performers, and they agreed to teach her fire eating. From that moment on, Eugenia was addicted. She sponged everything she was taught and advanced her skills by watching YouTube videos. “I went hardcore into it, and that was when I did most of my learning . . . I would practice in my room with not lit poi — I’ve broken so many lightbulbs in my house because I did it like every night.”
As she progressed, Eugenia began participating in jam sessions with other fire performers in the area. “We would get together and just practice. And, you know, you pick up something from somebody else; they pick up some things from you. It was pretty cool.”
Eugenia believes she had a leg up in the industry due to her experience as a dancer, model and actress. Her mom, a Flamenco virtuoso originally from Spain, taught Eugenia and her sisters to dance and encouraged them to perform constantly. They grew up dancing and singing in churches, schools and at family gatherings.
She and each of her five siblings also learned to play a different instrument, and her mother found ample opportunities to show off their Bon Trap family orchestra.
“I’d be like a little guinea pig,” Eugenia laughed. “I used to hula hoop and violin at the same time, so every family gathering she’d be like, ‘Show them! Show them!’”
Eugenia thrived in the spotlight. In high school, she had decided she was going to be an actor, and after she graduated, she began building her portfolio doing modeling gigs and trade for prints, where she gained experience by collaborating with up-and-coming photographers in the area.
And when she stumbled down the rabbit hole of fire performing, she went for it full force and never looked back. Knowing that the company she worked for would only book more experienced fire performers, Eugenia decided to go solo and start her own show.
What resulted was a delightful cross between choreography and improvisation.
“Most fire performers, I’ve found, are like super hippy and super flow arts/improv. And then, there’s the performers that just do it to music and hit certain parts of the music. That’s kind of where I’m at,” Eugenia explained.
In each of her sets, she incorporates dance moves, as well as what she calls “power moves” that she carefully times with the music to get the best reactions from her audience.
“It really is about musicality and hitting a part in a song — you cannot be as technical and as great and skillful — and that’s for any artists, in my opinion. If you’re connecting and you’re hitting certain spots, it actually has way more impact, and it’s actually way more interesting and lively.”
She tends to pick songs with a beat drop, or movie scores with a dramatic climax where she can implement one of her power moves. By carefully timing a split or rolling into a deep backbend with the soundtrack — ‘hitting a part in a song’, as she calls it — she can doubly wow the audience. “I’m kind of addicted to getting those reactions,” she admits.
She takes it a step further by playing a character, typically to suit the song or theme of the event. For Halloween, Eugenia played a broken doll character while entertaining guests at a haunted walk. Once, for an ‘Acid Headz” themed event at a local bar in Norfolk, she dressed in an edgy outfit and let her inner badass out to play. At other shows, she’ll channel a more whimsical energy and embody a fairy or elf.
Whatever the concept, she brings it to life by carefully planning her costumes, makeup and effects. She loves transforming, and it shows in the careful attention she pays to aesthetics.
As she began booking gigs, Eugenia found that her work as a fire performer overlaps with her many other freelance services as a children’s performer, stilt walker and violinist, among others (contact her at email@example.com for inquiries and pricing). She also found her network benefited from being so versatile a performer.
“Honestly, I couldn’t make money with just one thing that I do. I had to always do all of it,” Eugenia said.
Eugenia took a minute to answer when I asked how many jobs she did a week back in Virginia. As someone who has worked in Atlanta’s gig economy for the past decade, I knew how one can be at the mercy of trends and seasonal flux.
She expressed the conundrum, saying, “You can get booked every day one week and then nothing for like three weeks, so it’s literally just the game of juggling. I actually don’t know how to juggle, but like that’s literally what I’ve been doing for the past eight years just juggling, juggling, juggling.”
A few months ago, Eugenia decided to pack her bags and hit the road for Atlanta. With all the television shows and films being filmed in the city, she had heard the market was ‘poppin’.’
But making it in the ‘New Hollywood of the East’ has proved more challenging than Eugenia thought.
“It’s been a little overwhelming and a lot harder than I thought,” said Eugenia. Promoting herself for the past eight years in Virginia Beach, she had established quite the network, and now she’s having to start clean. But she’s confident that once she finds her niche there will be more opportunity. “I just don’t know how long that’s going to take,” she says.
But she figures that being a multi-talented actress/model/performer sets her apart. Already she has found a way to merge some of these skills as a brand ambassador and model for the New Zealand-based company, Home of Poi.
Her next step is to find a local agent. Once she accomplishes that, she will face the challenges of navigating the industry and staying true to herself.
“What scares me here, is [ that working with an agent exclusively] might shut doors for me possibly . . . because in that world, it’s all about money and what box they can place you in and what role are you playing and what type are you. That scares me to put myself at the mercy of somebody who doesn’t really know my full capacity,” Eugenia said.
Ideally, she will find a way to do it all. She knows it is not standard, not the easiest route to take. But the industry’s mercurial nature is one of the things she loves most about it.
“I love it. I really love it, and — I would die in a nine-to-five job. I would die; I would die. I would not be happy — I just wouldn’t. I’m just so drawn to this world. I think, honestly, until I’m old, I will be doing stuff like this in one way or another. And I know that because I believe that I can so even if there isn’t like a path for me, I will make one.”
Q: What is the ultimate goal for you?
A: Acting takes the cake for that. Since I was little, I remember watching Indiana Jones, which is my favorite movie, I remember watching that movie and being like, ‘That looks so exciting.’ I felt the adventure of that whole world. I get sucked into worlds, and I want to be part of different worlds all the time, not just one world. So, I was like, ‘A good way to do that could be through acting.’
“I just want to tell a story or entertain or make people happy or make them sad, because they need to understand what the human condition is, so I think that’s when I was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to be part of something like that.’ It doesn’t even matter how.”
Q: If you were signed with the next big Hollywood movie, would you still do fire performing?
A: Yep. I would. I think I would want to do it all. I think with acting, everything I do — stilt walking, playing violin, flamenco dancing, belly dancing, whatever — it can all overlap into acting because you’re playing different characters, so if I could somehow make it happen where I could be doing all of it.
I don’t know what my goal is as far as the biggest role — obviously every actor’s like, ‘I won an Oscar!’ and that would be cool, but I think that if I could constantly do it without having to struggle to do it, or get bigger roles. I want to be that person, you know, when you watch movies and you’re like, ‘I know that person!’ But you don’t really know their life — you’re just like, ‘They’re a good actor. I saw them in this movie.’
I would never want to be famous. That seems terrible. I just want to be respected for the craft and also be free to be able to do that craft. And then, also be able to take care of myself money-wise, and if I ever have kids, inspire them to do that.
Q: Do you think it’s true what they say about Atlanta being the Hollywood of the East?
A: I think yes, there’s a lot of stuff filming here, but I think the only way to get it is through an agent. In Virginia, I had a couple different agents, and you didn’t have to be exclusive to anybody, which was really cool, because then I could also do my freelance stuff. Here, I’m still trying to get to know it, but I think I will have to have an agent . . . I feel like here there’s a lot more. I just have to try a little harder you know. Because there’s a billion of me, so I have to be like, ‘Hey look at me. What’s up? I eat fire!’
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Follow Eugenia on Instagram @eugenia_firedancer or on her acting profile @euegeniagonzales_actress.