By Drew Halfnight
Last weekend, 19 Ryerson students took a field trip to a small town, where they made bombs, blew up a car, shot a fire hose, then had some burgers for lunch and went home.
They were students in the Ryerson Theatre School’s pyrotechnics class participating in a weekend workshop, ‘pyro day’ to the initiated.
Asked how pyro day unfolded, 21-year-old theatre student Sophie Santerre said, “we went to the fire station, made bombs and blew up a car.”
The trip to Orangeville, Ont. was specially arranged by course instructor Ron Craig, a pyro expert with connections at the fire department. This was the fifth year that Craig organized pyro day. “This is the sweetest course you’ll ever take,” said 20-year-old theatre student Mark Houghton.
“I got to blow up a car,” said Jess McNabb, another student, “that’s fucking cool.”
Asked what educational purpose pyro day serves, Santerre said, “Everything we learned in class, we actually got to try out, which is awesome.” She said she can add the experience to her “pyro journal,” which is the industry equivalent of a resume listing relevant work experience.
The class met at nine o’clock on Saturday morning at the Orangeville Fire Department. Each student was equipped with safety glasses and taught how to handle a fire extinguisher and a fire hose. Student Nick Tino said the fire hose workshop was “one of the coolest parts” of the day. At maximum pressure, a fire hose can blast through a brick wall.
The students mixed their own black powder bomb, an explosive concoction of sulphur, potassium nitrate and carbon dioxide, which the students had learned to make in class.
To each bomb they added a one and a half-gallon bag of gasoline for increased effect.
The detonations, which produced 50-foot mushroom clouds behind the fire hall, evoked howls of appreciation (“amazing!”, “fucked up!”, “spectacular!”) from the pyro students.
Only six students got to mannually trigger the charge that blew up a car, a “piece-of-shit Toyota” according to Santerre, who relished the memory of manually connecting positive and negative charges to make the car go boom.
Three of the lucky six had scored the best marks on a term test, and the other three won a “violent” game of rock, paper, scissors performed at the site. The same car was blown up six times.
The students also practiced “bullet hits,” which are small detonations meant to suggest the impact of bullets on a surface, in this case drywall.
Teacher Ron Craig is a member of both the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators and the Society for Explosives Engineers. His popular pyro elective, open only to seniors in theatre production, is the stuff of minor legend at the Theatre School. Students say they have handled a rocket launcher and a 38 Beretta handgun and set off explosives inside the Ryerson Theatre in Kerr Hall.