fireworks over the plaza

As the music played, the chandeliers sparkled, the wine was poured and the four-course meal was served, Steve Coman ’78 was a little preoccupied during Saint Mary’s Red Carpet Centennial Gala on June 22.

The evening, he admits, is a bit of a blur.

As Steve and his company, RES Specialty Pyrotechnics, Inc. of Belle Plaine, Minn., were preparing for a spectacular after-dinner fireworks air and ground display — in the midst of a torrential downpour — his mind was on his crew, the weather, and the show.

“I don’t remember much. I was so busy looking at weather reports on my phone,” he said.

Coman estimates his team, including his wife Camille, put in about 150 hours of preparation work before ever arriving on the Winona campus. “There’s quite a bit of time spent in computer programming and prepping materials, especially the ground show that was close to the audience. We manufactured all of that product.”

A crew of 10 set up the show, which included the ground show in the plaza (complete with a blazing “100”)  synchronized to the aerial show, shot from the athletic fields. The entire show was also synchronized to music designed to create themes and moods.

Coman said he uses some artistic license and creativity, making sure phrases like “trees of green and red roses too” contain fireworks with those colors. Quiet music gets subdued weeping willow fireworks, and up-beat melodies bring out the larger explosions. And he wanted to incorporate some of the specially commissioned Centennial music as well.

“I wanted music that would represent each of the different segments of age groups in attendance,” he said. The sky lit up to music from Led Zeppelin to Louis Armstrong to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

But there was a chance that things wouldn’t go off with a bang, as outside the Red Carpet Centennial Gala the rain came down fast and heavy. The electronics and sound system were tarped, but there were many opportunities for things to go wrong.

“It’s a challenge, but we prepare for that sort of thing,” Coman said. “Normally not that heavy of a rain; that’s pretty rare. But fortunately the crew is very experienced. I can shoot it in a downpour but people aren’t going to want to go outside. I felt bad for the audience that wanted to see the show but I also felt bad for my crew. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

They couldn’t prepare for an ill-timed delivery van that parked in the wrong location, causing a communication error synchronizing the fireworks by blocking the radio signal. But, the path was cleared in the nick of time. “I don’t have much hair left on my head. There isn’t much to pull out anymore,” Coman said with a laugh.

There was also the added pressure of this being a big night for his alma mater. His classmates were in the audience, and he wanted to help the university celebrate its centennial milestone with style.

“That was the whole pressure. I’m supposed to be the big ta-da. I don’t want it to be some wilted flower. But God had pity on me and said, ‘OK we’ve tortured Steve enough tonight,’ and the rain lifted.”

And just as Coman had hoped for the best, that’s exactly what he delivered. As the crowd of 800 gathered on the plaza,  Coman and his team enjoyed hearing the applause and the gasps from the audience.

“My team did a stellar job. It’s very satisfying to hear the cheers and the oohs and aahs, to pull off that type of show and that size in those adverse conditions. We’re so glad people were pleased with our efforts.”

Coman ’78 founded RES Specialty Pyrotechnics more than 30 years ago. His international award-winning pyrotechnics company does traditional outdoor fireworks displays but specializes in theatrical indoor shows and fireworks synchronized to music and multimedia. His business also manufactures theatrical pyrotechnics that are used in their own shows and
distributed worldwide. RES Specialty Pyrotechnics won  the first-place trophy in the Thailand International Fireworks Contest Dec. 17, 2012. The competition was held to honor the King of Thailand for his birthday.

Past clients have included the Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves and Vikings, the Mall of America and countless events across the state.

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