“Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play.”
Everyone is also invited – strongly invited – to participate at AWoL Productions’ Ten Principles )'(, an enthusiastic glimpse into the counter-cultural world of Burning Man, the iconic and often parodied gathering in the Nevada desert of artists, musicians, free thinkers, free spirits, curious onlookers, wandering massage therapists, posers, tech billionaires, and ragtag tourists.
Larry Harvey, one of the Founding Fathers of Burning Man, formally laid out the ten principles in 2004 to capture the ethos that fuels the experience, including tenets of “decommodification” and “radical inclusion”. Audience members, prepare to be voluntold to take turns reading out each of the principles aloud from the program to a room of strangers and newly formed kindred spirits. The experience evoked memories of years reading passages aloud reluctantly in Presbyterian church – fitting because Burning Man bears all the markers of a religion more than a festival.
The core of the show is a rotating cast of “Burners” who enthusiastically recount their own experiences and what lessons they learned about themselves. The line-up of speakers will vary throughout each of the remaining five showings. On opening night, an energetic line-up of true believers recounted tales of scorched days, sleepless nights, projects gone awry, transcendence achieved, vehicular failure, and, of course, human connection. “Aren’t all these stories about hugs?” asked speaker TD Smith.
They were. Among the speakers, David Fabian explained how his time in the playa helped him break down the arbitrary divisions society establishes between work and play; “Tim” shared how Burning Man enabled him to connect meaningfully with a woman without adopting the mentality of an asshole, as he’d been advised on the DC singles scene; and “Preamble” praised the kindness of strangers who helped along her journey to Black Rock City. The reoccurring strand running through all of the testimonials was the fostering of self-discovering and true connection with others. A more structured story might feature 10 speakers each individually speaking to one of the 10 principles. But that would not be very iconoclastic.
Ten Principles )'(
Chief Creative Mind: JR “Nexus” Russ
Details and tickets
Now running at Fringe Festival for the second consecutive year, the show provides an excellent collage of personal stories that are bound to rouse nostalgia in veteran Burners counting down until the next trip out West (“The man burns in 58 days”, according to the bulletin) and inspire those preparing to join the circus soon themselves.
For curious onlookers who are forming their own ideas about the phenomenon and what all the fuss is about, they may be left wanting for some deeper context on the wider event – the historic origins of how it all began, insight into the logistical rules for how the makeshift community gets along, the impact that the steady stream of Silicone Valley entrepreneurs and wealthy flooding into the festival over the past years has had on the communal ethos. As a Burning Man Virgin myself (full disclosure), I was left wondering to what extent “the default world”, as Fabian playfully referred to the entire universe outside of the tents, has creeped into Eden over the years. Has the explosion of media attention and the movement’s own success brought noticeable self-destruction or degradation of Harvey’s ideals? (Even Grover Norquist is famously a Burner now.) What impact has the steady march of hashtags and “pics or it didn’t happen” had on the event?
The speakers on opening night seemed to focus most heavily upon the principle of radical self-expression, focused on compellingly telling their own truth and their own experiences. I dug it – I was just left wondering what they made of the ways in which Burning Man has been able to resist or adapt along with changes on the outside.
Luckily, you can catch the speakers at the bar afterward pretty easily. Ask them yourself. Let it burn.