Go Deeper

Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Castello, Firewatch Captain

Posted August 7th, 2009

If you’ve ever been to a Live Arts show in a venue that’s off the beaten path, chances are you’ve seen Brian Castello. Brian is the Firewatch Captain for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe, meaning he helps manage the many (this year over 200!) firewatch volunteer shifts.

What is firewatch? Only the cushiest and most important volunteer job around. One thing that makes the Festival unique is the transformation of warehouses, galleries, swimming pools, and more into theater spaces. In order to make those shows happen, by law we need volunteers seated at fire exits. For sitting in a chair for a few hours with a flashlight and walkie-talkie, you get a voucher that you can use to see a free Live Arts show. Pretty sweet deal! Email volunteer [at] livearts-fringe [dot] org if you want to sign up for firewatch. Now, let’s learn a bit more about Brian . . .

When did you start working with the Festival?
In 2001, I was at the Late Night Cabaret to see Edgar Allen & The Poettes. I was a big fan of Stan Heleva, who played Edgar. Stan wandered over to talk to me and Deborah Block rushed over and asked him if he knew anyone who could fill a volunteer position so that [the Philadelphia Department of] Licenses & Inspections didn’t shut down all the shows at the National Dock #2. Instead of running for the restroom, I raised my hand. I was just the man crazy enough to do it. Deb was surprised. Deb was relieved. I was told to report to the National the next day and stay on the loading dock from the time the Box Office opened through the end of all the shows at the theater. 14 nights later, I had done 35 straight shifts from the same spot on the loading dock of the National. Firewatch was born.

Why did you start volunteering?
Helping out makes “Fringing” more fun. The Festival was growing by leaps and bounds and needed help desperately.

What has been your favorite show in the Festival?
That’s like asking a grandparent to choose his favorite grandchild, but I’ll mention a few.

This Mansion is a Hole. I saw that one 16 times, watched the cast warm up, fill the pool, empty the pool. Any show by Foursome. Any show at a far away venue. I remember seeing My Red Wagon, a monologue at the Lion Theater at St. Mark’s Church in Frankford, and marveling at the audience, mostly members of the church, who were so proud that their church was a Fringe venue. They were poring over the guides, planning trips to Old City and Center City venues. Any show I get to see in development over the year, usually from Headlong. Favorite Live Arts set ever: Still Unknown by Subcircle.

Why do you keep coming back to the volunteer office?
Fringe is an addiction for which there is no 12-step group. I don’t think I could see a Live Arts or Fringe show without asking how I can help.

What has been your most “Fringe” moment?
I think I have seen it all.

Most Embarrassing Fringe moment: When Whit McLaughlin had to stop This Mansion is a Hole mid-show when someone had locked the exit door to the National Dock and the cast’s Hugh Hefner robes were on the other side. Not only was this a flagrant firewatch violation, but the entire cast was naked.

What are you most excited about in this year’s festival?
I want to see Welcome to Yuba City at The Hub. I love it when you see a venue get resurrected each year. Last year it was The European Lesson and louder, this year it’s Yuba City.

What do you do with your time when you aren’t “Fringe-ing”?
I work at a non-profit that helps homeless and low-income people connect with housing and services. I am a computer programmer by profession, but that kind of started as a hobby when I was a kid and no one knew what a computer was. I am a member of the United States Chess Federation but more of a spectator than a player these days. I sometimes get to see performance art during the regular year, so I “fringe” off-festival as well.

And the photo of me was taken by JJ Tiziou at the Festival and used the next night in a performance by Lot Six. That’s what’s great about the festival, the immediacy, the spontaneity. Like when somebody sticks a prop on the Firewatch Captain.

–Karina Kacala

Photo by JJ Tiziou.