Are fireworks ever just fireworks?
Not for the man behind the finale of Monday's birthday celebrations.
Joey Ruigrok van der Werven, a designer, pyrotechnician and engineer, says the 13-minute spectacle that will ring in Canberra's big birthday as night falls on the lake will be as much about words and theatre as about light shows.
"It's more of a theatrical event, it's not a fireworks kind of spectacle," says Ruigrok van der Werven, who worked on the extravaganza with creative director Robyn Archer. "I'm trying to tie in some of the thematics that Robyn has set out, for example the use of the words is important. We would like to talk about the celebration of the birthday, so we have some birthday elements in the fireworks. I can't say too much yet."
The fireworks will be organised along the axes of Canberra's original design, to incorporate the spirit of the city into a distinctive display.
It's almost a year since Ruigrok van der Werven first sat down with Archer and the designer of the birthday party, Geoff Cobham, and worked out how to make their vision a reality in the day's crescendo moments.
"Geoff gave me a brief as to the word he wanted to use, and a combination of audience engagement and fireworks," he says.
The mystery word, made of eight-metre-high steel letters attached to catamaran-style vessels, is now being set up on the lake out of view.
The letters will begin moving around the lake like a "giant game of scrabble" at about 8pm, when the Centenary Symphony begins, and by 8.45 they will have formed the mystery word as the fireworks go off from 13 points around the lake.
Ruigrok van der Werven has been interested in pyrotechnics since he was growing up in The Netherlands.
"Like in Canberra, you were allowed to have fireworks at New Year's Eve, so on the first of January I went and found all the ones that didn't go off and made new fireworks," he says. "I'm intrigued with the large scale of it."
So is he anxious about how things will go on Monday? "No, not any more - I think it's going well," he says, although he admits there was some early worry about budgeting for the big project.
"I had budgeted my whole design pretty OK, but we discovered that when we tried to put it out for tender, it turned out the big companies who come from Sydney or Melbourne who can do that kind of stuff were going to bring all their own people with them, so they had in their fee already something like $80,000 just for hotel costs, so we couldn't work with them," he says.
This approach went against Archer's ethos of involving local people in the project, to create a skill-based legacy long after the day was over. The result has been that Ruigrok van der Werven and the team have more or less managed the project in-house, and have used local staff and experts where possible.
For example, the catamarans bearing the letters will be driven by young members of the Canberra Yacht Club, who are certified for the job.
Ruigrok van der Werven said while he had worked on many large-scale projects, this one was unusual because he was working with the local government.
"It worked OK. I'm a freelancer, and I normally work for other theatre companies, for festivals," he says.
"But I'm a theatre man and this is a festival, and both the directors are theatre people."
■ The fireworks finale will begin at 8.45pm.