HomeMeet The ArtistsMeet The 2024 Artists: Tom Kohnen (Pro-Am Competitor)

Meet The 2024 Artists: Tom Kohnen (Pro-Am Competitor)

2024 Pro-Am Display Competitor

Tom Kohnen

From: Orlando, FL
Entertainment Technician at The Walt Disney Company (EPCOT)

Tom is traveling from the land of Disney to compete in this year’s Sky Wars championship! With a background in musical education and over 600 shows as a pyro crew member under his belt, Tom is excited to present a large-scale fireworks display of his own creation.

How Tom got involved in pyrotechnics:

Tom’s pyro journey is one-of-a-kind. He’s originally from Buffalo, New York and had aspired to be a music teacher. After his first year of college, however, he decided to take a different route. 

“I took a gap year and actually went and did a Disney college program, where I was working at Tomorrowland Speedway,” Tom said. “I got to see Wishes go up in the air every single day. I always thought it would be an interesting job to have, doing fireworks for such a big company.”

Tom soon applied for another Disney program, Tech Behind The Dreams – but that opportunity wasn’t the dream that would come true for him. “When I got the rejection letter for that program, I was more upset than I thought I ever would be.” 

So, he returned to college and decided to change things up by swapping his education studies for music and theater. That’s when he really started to research pyrotechnics. He got his official start in pyro with Young Explosives out of Rochester, New York, where he worked a couple Fourth of Julys to gain experience.

Immediately after college, Tom applied for an Entertainment Technician internship at Disney and was hired full-time right away. He started in June 2019 and was thrown in the deep end with his first 4th of July season at Disney! Since then, he’s worked on over 600 shows.

Now, Tom’s headed from Disney to another magical stage: Sky Wars. This September will mark Tom’s first time attending the US Invitational Fireworks Championship and the first major pyrotechnic production he’s choreographed, coordinated, and executed from conception to cleanup!

Teaser of Tom’s 2024 show:

“Almost everything in this show is being made specifically for this show,” Tom revealed. How cool is that?!

Tom says he has scripted most of the show’s opener and closer, and is now working with a vendor who is making some “special product” for the middle chunk of his fireworks display. He has sourced primarily domestic manufacturers for his fireworks products, and he believes he’ll have a lot of effects that the Sky Wars audience hasn’t yet seen. As far as cue count goes, he admits his script has already gone over the 1400 cue mark!

When it comes to the soundtrack, Tom absolutely adores classical: “Obviously. I have a music degree! I always try to gravitate towards that style.” As is evident in his first select choreography simulation below!

Favorite pyro show to date:

One of Tom’s favorite examples of his choreography was his application for PyroJam 2024:

This showcase of music by Cody Fry features Caves, Underground, What If, Sailboat, and Fix You. According to Tom’s description, this show concept “takes us on a journey through the complex emotions of life.”

Why a simulation video, you ask? Turns out, an Entertainment Technician at EPCOT rarely has the opportunity to shoot a show they’ve personally choreographed. It’s for this very reason Tom is stepping up to the Sky Wars plate: to buff his pyro resume and prove he has what it takes to be a lead show designer at Disney.

Judging from the above video and his other choreographed simulation, we think he’s got serious potential.

Where does Tom find pyro inspiration?

It should be no surprise that Tom gets huge inspiration from one of the world’s most famously talented fireworks designers, Eric Tucker, who is well known as the pyrotechnic mastermind behind many Disney displays. 

“Listen to Eric Tucker!” Tom says enthusiastically. “He’s always right.” 

Tom says there are two things he’s heard Eric advise that have really stuck out to him. One is to lean into your musical background; and two: understand the chemistry inside the product that you’re firing. “When you talk about a certain product, it has a very specific formula attached to it.” He admits this is a VERY important understanding to have when one is dealing with custom products for their Sky Wars Pro-Am show!

Ask The Pros: Questions from the Fans

Jessica Bosworth: How many people will you recruit to help you? 

“Originally, I planned to make this so easy of a setup that it could be done really quickly. And the plan was three: myself, and two of my coworkers to set up.”

…Just three, Tom? “My rationale behind this was that I set up a show every day with a small crew, it’s possible when everything is set and planned for you in advance.”

Tom has since received so many offers for assistance that he predicts his team is going to be quite a bit larger than his original plan. Knowing how our pyro crews like to help each other out, we expect Tom to be making fast friends on the field; especially if his show has as many single shots as he teased in his “Meet The Artist” interview!

Nicole Mikrut: When do the Pyro wives get their husbands back?!?!?

In Tom’s case, his boyfriend Mike really hasn’t left his side. “I think we’ve spent the most time together recently than ever before!” Tom says Mike will be supporting him from the audience this year.

Sam Christensen: Not just anyone gets the opportunity to compete at Sky Wars. What does this mean for you in your pyro journey?

Tom’s ultimate career goal is to be a full-time fireworks display designer. 

“I’ve come very close on many occasions, but the feedback I always get is ‘you just haven’t produced from start to finish enough shows,’ or ‘you haven’t worked with an AHJ closely enough’ or working with sourcing materials from manufacturers. So this is really incredible for me because I am finally achieving all of those things from start to finish.”

Tom says this is “the perfect opportunity” for him to prove what he’s made of and further his professional career in pyrotechnic choreography!

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