Nadia Hagen says she was born a freak.
“It’s not like a profession even. It’s who you are,” says the founder of Flam Chen as she sits on a couch in the organization’s rehearsal warehouse. Her dog, Tannakin Skinker, lies beside her listening attentively and waiting for a belly rub. After years of performances at the All Souls’ Procession, the eccentric circus and fire theater group Flam Chen finally has a home at the new Mercado San Agustin Annex Festival Grounds.
The market district is an expansion of the Mercado San Agustin, bringing 13 new locally owned businesses like Hermosa Coffee, Beaut Burger and Westbound housed entirely in modified shipping containers. The festival grounds will provide a versatile new venue for concerts, festivals and community events. Flam Chen’s soft-opening show, “The Fisher’s Wish,” premieres Thursday, April 19.
When Hagen, 54, left the gritty, competitive New York City art scene for the West Coast, she was a determined artist. She lived in Oregon, Washington and California. “Every time I would go through Tucson, I would stop here for a little while and I really liked it,” Hagen says. She says she had more time for her child because she could work part time in Tucson, giving her the opportunity to work on her art. “In most places in the country it’s not possible,” she says.
Hagen founded Flam Chen in 1996 after gaining experience working on industrial music projects. Later, she became less interested in vocalization and music and instead focused on performance art and pantomime. “I learned how to spin fire poi from one of the first people who brought it back from Bali in 1980,” she says. Hagen says the decision was made to make Flam Chen a lighthearted production with stunt work and circus acts.
Paul Weir, technical director, manifests the framework, determining what is possible. His past experience as a mountain climber, general contractor and design builder gave him the tools to create the circus equipment and props for the performances. He holds up his latest creation proudly, a large pink and purple anglerfish puppet with glowing eyes.
“The Fisher’s Wish” is a folk tale told differently around the world. “What I’ve done is try to take it and expand it out so that it has a lot of different threads, so it doesn’t just end in one moral answer but almost raises more questions than what it started with,” Hagen says. The show will incorporate fire effects, aerial acrobatics, puppets, a video installation backdrop and a soundtrack created with music by Amon Tobin and Noisia mixed by DJ Dirty Verbs.
Kira Dixon-Weinstein, executive director of Mercado San Agustin at the Gadsden Co., reached out to Flam Chen a couple of years ago while they were searching for a place to do the finale of the All Souls’ Procession. “They saw this as a real opportunity to set up their own production company,” she says. “We’re super-excited. It’s been a long, complicated construction schedule. We really see it as an expansion of downtown.”
Catch Flam Chen at the celebration of the Mercado San Agustin Annex block party on May 4 through 6. The block party includes a pop-up market with creators, vintage collectors, food trucks and live music, including performances from Brian Lopez, Tom Walbank, Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, Golden Boots and mariachis.