PPC’s Homecoming Laser and Fireworks show lights the night


Knox Coulter | Staff Photographer

This year’s Homecoming Laser & Fireworks Show, hosted by Pitt Program Council, took a staff of seven Zambelli Fireworks employees several hours to set up.

By Mario Cattabiani III, Staff Writer

Neon-colored lasers painted intricate, shifting figures — a face, then a horse, then a person dancing — against an ethereal canvas of fog. Fireworks exploded with thunderous booms. Pop hits like Jackie Chan by Post Malone and The Village People’s YMCA blared from massive speakers.

This year’s Homecoming Laser & Fireworks Show, organized by the Pitt Program Council, wowed a crowd of student, alumni and Pittsburgh residents Friday night. The show, one of Pitt’s annual Homecoming Weekend events, featured Zambelli Fireworks from New Castle that turned the night sky above and around the Cathedral of Learning into a carnival of lights and sounds.

Behind the scenes, PPC spent nearly 24 hours preparing for the event, which lasted less than half an hour. PPC would not comment on how much the event cost overall.

Paul Wilson, the head technician for Zambelli Fireworks, worked with a staff of seven to get the 50 slats of fireworks set up and ready for the show.

“It definitely takes a team to get this done, especially when there is no room for error,” Wilson said.

Zambelli Fireworks worked alongside three other companies and dozens of volunteers to pull off the event, shutting down Bigelow Boulevard all day Friday and Roberto Clemente Drive and Schenley Drive when it was time for the show. Firemen stood on surrounding rooftops while the fireworks boomed that evening just in case of a wayward ember, according to Assistant Director of the PPC Tom Misuraca.

Misuraca has been bringing events like the Homecoming Laser & Fireworks show to Pitt for more than 30 years. Leading up to the event, he and the PPC began constructing the Bigelow Boulevard stage at 6 p.m. Thursday. About 20 members of the PPC worked until 11 p.m. along with Hughie’s Event Production crew, which stayed until 3 a.m. Friday morning.

Brian Riani, Audio Technician at Hughies Event Production with regional offices in Pittsburgh, was ready for the long hours that it would take to create the show.

“At the end, we will probably have spent 24 hours to set up the 25-minute show. There’s a lot that goes into this,” he said six hours before the first firework pierced the sky.

On the day of the event at 9:30 a.m, Zambelli Fireworks, with three rental trucks full of equipment, cruised into Mazeroski Field. Over the next few hours, the outfield of the baseball field would turn into the home of over 1,500 firework shells.

These were not your average backyard Fourth of July fireworks. These were 3-inch wide, grapefruit-sized shells loaded into shatter-proof launching pipes — all synced by computer and choreographed to fire in unison with the lasers and music.

To better understand the technology behind the show, Riani put the audio system in simple terms.

“The sound system is basically like a very large home stereo,” he said.

The average watts in a home stereo is 150. The wattage of a single amp at the Homecoming show, 6,500. With 16 amps used in the production of the show, the listeners experienced over 104,000 watts of power.

The audio wasn’t the only state of the art technology in the show. Lightwave International, a stage lighting equipment supplier in Washington County provided its proprietary laser machine, the Phenom, adding to up to a total of 44 lasers.

Mike Dunn, the show programmer, described these lasers as the first of their kind.

“These Phenom lasers are the first lasers that are 100 percent safe to the human eye. They are made to scan the crowd, creating a multitude of shapes, colors, and patterns,” he said.

Much of the credit for the successful event belongs to the PPC, according to Riani.

“Pitt Program Council is a huge help,” he said. “They put in a lot of labor behind the scenes to make sure this happens.”

For PPC’s Misuraca, the best part of the show wasn’t the lasers, or the fireworks or the music. It’s the crowd’s reaction to the fireworks.

“Truth be told,” he said, “my favorite part is watching the people watch it.”

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