Impossible Light

A documentary about the Bay Lights is premiering later this month in the NYC area. Created by Burning Man Director – and Disorient founder – Leo Villareal, the $8 million Bay Lights Project is the world’s largest ever electronic art installation.

IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT reveals the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering reality. 

On March 5th, 2013, San Francisco’s skyline was transformed by an amazing sight: 25,000 LED lights that, for perhaps the first time save the 1989 earthquake, caused people to consider the Bay Bridge instead of her iconic sister. 

How did this happen? Who was behind the eight-million-dollar installation? How in the world did they pull it off? 

The story behind the making of THE BAY LIGHTS—a project whose very “impossibility made it possible”—answers these questions, revealing the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering realit 

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DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

The Bay Lights is an iconic contemporary art sculpture by internationally renowned artist, Leo Villareal. It features 25,000 LED lights strung along the 1.8 mile Western Span of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. In 2011, I stumbled into the unbelievable concept of turning an entire region’s traffic workhorse into a stunning, abstract light sculpture that changes an entire city’s skyline every night from dusk ‘til dawn.

I first met Ben Davis, the man with this not-so-simple idea, at a charity event. He was there trying to convince people on the possibility of The Bay Lights. The idea was brand new and no one had yet thought to document such an historic achievement. I basically nudged my way in, begged them to let me bring my camera, and never looked back.

In the beginning, when the installation was still an idea, I couldn’t conceive of how they would do it. That immediately made me interested. On one side, you have paperwork, permits, and all sorts of government agencies with endless red tape. On the other, you have a massive engineering structure meant to provide a very practical service to the region, which is now being viewed as an abstract canvas for contemporary art. And on top of all that, there is the very real need for millions of dollars to appear out of thin air. All kinds of questions immediately entered my mind and suddenly the project just spoke to me; I absolutely had to witness it first-hand.

I started this project because I thought it would be amazing to chronicle the process of turning a crazy idea into a stunningly beautiful reality. Along the way, I grew to appreciate and love the often-overlooked bridge itself. For the past three years I have come to know the Bay Bridge intimately. I have climbed up, crawled under, and hung off the side of this significant structure. I’ve also been busted for breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT explores what we as human beings are capable of when obstacles seem insurmountable. It’s about the human spirit of collaboration and finding a way to make the impossible possible.

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CAST & CREW BIOS

DIRECTOR/ WRITER/PRODUCER/CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/EDITOR

– Jeremy Ambers

Jeremy Ambers is a video editor by trade and a filmmaker by passion. He graduated from SUNY Oswego in 2000 and spent much of his early adult life working for a small production company in midtown Manhattan. In 2009, Jeremy married the love of his life and moved across the country to San Francisco. While trying to build a steady flow of freelance editing work, his wife encouraged him to pursue his lifelong goal of becoming a filmmaker.

In 2011, he bought a Panasonic HVX-200A and a questionable wireless lavelier mic and caught the very early musings of lighting the Bay Bridge by complete coincidence. Jeremy spent three years obsessing over the bridge, Leo Villareal and the iconic sculpture now known as The Bay Lights, capturing its beauty and inspiration. The result of his endless dedication can be seen in his first feature length documentary film: IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT.

 

ARTIST / SUBJECT OF IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT – Leo Villareal 

Leo Villareal received a BA in sculpture from Yale University in 1990, and a graduate degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Interactive Telecommunications Program. Recent exhibitions include, a survey show organized by the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, which continues to tour several museums in the United States.  

He has completed many site specific works including, Radiant Pathways, Rice University in Houston, Texas; Mulitverse, The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Diagonal Grid, Borusan Center for Culture and Arts, Istanbul, Turkey; Stars, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York, and the recently installed Hive, for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the Bleecker Street subway station in Manhattan. Villareal is a focal point of the James Corner Field Operations design team that will renew Chicago’s Navy Pier, and commissioned installations at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and The Durst Organization in New York City, will be in visible public spaces.  Villareal’s work is in the permanent collections of many museums including the  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY;  Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Kagawa, Japan;  Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

 

SUBJECT OF IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT – Ben Davis 

Ben Davis is the visionary behind THE BAY LIGHTS and the creator of Pi In The Sky. He is founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts, the non-profit that aims to alter the arc of human history through the creation of transformative works of public art. He is currently championing major art installations in San Francisco and beyond.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ‘IMPOSSIBLE LIGHT’

Official Website: www.impossiblelightfilm.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/impossiblelight

Twitter: @baylightsfilm #findaway

Upcoming Screenings:

October, 2014

Theatrical Screening Events:

  • AMC Clifton Commons, Clifton, NJ (October 27, 2014)
  • AMC Loews Shore 8, Huntington, NY (October 29, 2014)

November, 2014

SF Urban Film Festival, San Francisco, CA (November 7, 2014)

  • Opening Night Feature-Length Film

November, 2014

Special Screening

  • San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, CA (November 13, 2014)

November, 2014

Napa Valley Film Festival, St. Helena, CA (November 14, 2014)

 

* For a full list of upcoming screenings, visit www.impossiblelightfilm.com/events

 

 

 

The Black Rock Bijou: Cinema in the Zone

by Whatsblem the Pro

Meet me in the balcony and baise-moi -- PHOTO: Oliver Fluck

Meet me in the balcony and baise-moi — PHOTO: Oliver Fluck


There’s a moment at Burning Man that is etched indelibly into my memory: while biking out in the deep playa, I spotted a mysterious object way off in the distance, too far from Black Rock City itself to be seen from anyplace in town. Was it a mirage? The playa has no shortage of them, and they can distort distances to the point that it’s impossible to tell if something is ten miles away, or only a quarter of a mile or so. I pedaled toward the tiny enigma and watched it get noticeably larger, indicating that maybe it wasn’t so far away as to be unreachable. A little more pedaling in the arid desert silence, and the blip resolved itself into a rectilinear structure of some kind. . . and then, as I finally got close enough to see clearly what had drawn me so far from the mother of all parties, my jaw dropped. There, all by itself in the middle of that vast sun-bleached gypsum plain, there in the trackless, blank heart of a mercilessly empty land, was. . . a movie theater.

This was no makeshift, ramshackle attempt. Anyone can put up a screen and project movies onto it, almost anywhere, but this was different. The movie theater I was looking at was made of brick, and looked like it couldn’t possibly have been built anywhere else. It seemed to be a permanent structure, and it looked old and a little run-down, but who on Earth would build and maintain such a thing – who COULD build and maintain such a thing – in such an empty, godforsaken place, so devoid of people and so far from anything and everything?

The building was tiny, but looked like it was neatly sliced out of a larger theater somewhere, as though some dimensional anomaly had warped space-time, causing a discrete section of a cinema in the Midwest of the 1950s to extrude itself through some mind-shattering Lovecraftian shortcut to the Black Rock desert. The thing was truly, clearly a labor of love, with a lighted marquee sporting Art Deco touches, and regularly-scheduled films being screened on-time in a genuine theater interior furnished with real theater seats. They even had a candy counter with those big movie-sized portions.

The laborers of love behind the Bijou are a couple of burners named Release Neuman and Sam Gipson. Their shared vision and loving attention to detail has given a unique and landmark experience to every burner lucky enough to stumble across it while braving the depths of the wilderness outside Black Rock City.

When I read their Mission Statement at the Black Rock Bijou website, I was really impressed. The experience I had the first time I saw the Bijou was entirely what they’d had in mind for me right from the start. The Bijou is built purely to blow minds, and designed to be discovered accidentally. Release and Sam run a tight ship of a genuine theater in pursuit of that mind-blowing quality, knowing that some hokey half-assed Halloweeny mock-up would not achieve the desired effect in the minds of those who stumble upon their brick mirage. The attention to detail is remarkable. . . and the Bijou isn’t just a strange visitor from another place; it’s as much time machine as anything else. The films shown Monday through Saturday at midnight, 2:00 AM, and 4:00 AM are all films that might have been screened in the theater the Bijou is modeled after: the Royal Theater in Archer City, Texas, made famous in the film The Last Picture Show.

I got together with Release and Sam to talk about the Bijou in August of 2013.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO:
Release, Sam. . . how did a fully-equipped old-school movie theater come to be operating in the depths of the Black Rock desert?

RELEASE:
Here’s how it started for me:

Sean Penn: the Milk of human kindness

Sean Penn: the Milk of human kindness

The first time I remember hearing about Burning Man was around 1997. I met this kid who was just out of film school, named Lance Black. Lance won the Academy Award a couple of years ago for the Milk screenplay, but this was long before his fame and fortune. He said there was this festival in the desert that 10,000 people went to, where they burned a big man in effigy. Lance said it was a crazy and fun adventure, and since I was with an Internet company at the time that was very cutting-edge, making made-for-the-net TV shows and films, we commissioned Lance to go make a film about Burning Man with a friend of his. I’m not sure I ever saw any results of that project; apparently the trip had gone a bit chaotically and the footage didn’t get through post-production before the company went out of business. As it turned out, we were ahead of our time in a bad way anyway; serving up streaming video didn’t work very well on 56k modems.

At any rate, I was intrigued by what I heard. I had been into the EDM scene since the acid house days of the 1980s, and some of my more with-it friends had gone up to Burning Man as part of that interest. They came back saying I really needed to go.

In the Summer of 2003 I was in one of those agonizing reappraisal times of life, and I decided, for no particular reason, to check out Burning Man. Something inside me, I guess, said it was time. . . but I was very uncertain as to whether or not I would like it. I have never been a camper and feared physical discomfort. Moreover, I feared being trapped there, maybe not liking it and wanting to go home right away. A friend and I decided we’d only go up for one day and one night, to get a toe in the water. We planned on going in Saturday afternoon and leaving Sunday morning, and we really didn’t prepare at all; another friend, Morgan, told us that we didn’t need to bring anything, since we could just come to his camp, have dinner there, and spend the night.

We never found Morgan, or his camp.

We spent the entire night wandering around the playa, with only a few bottles of water in our backpacks. We were quite cold for much of the chilly night. We didn’t know anyone. We watched the Burn in astonishment, wandered from art piece to art piece and theme camp to theme camp, meeting the most interesting people. At sunrise we found ourselves sitting around a fire with a group of strangers.

Every minute of the experience was magnificent, and we had the time of our lives. . . and now I feel like an alcoholic talking about his first drink; I’m still trying to recapture the buzz of that first Burn.

Caught up in the sheer wonder of my first visit to Black Rock City – the art, the people, the city itself – the thought popped into my head of an old movie theater. I really don’t know why a theater came to mind, but it had a little to do with wandering into the front door of Paddy Mirage, an installation that had a funny front door painted like it was an Irish pub. You’d walk through this Irish pub door and find yourself standing on a dance floor the size of an acre. I liked the weird juxtaposition of that sense of a familiar kind of place (the entrance to a pub) with what you got when you walked through the door – and through the looking glass – into this unexpected, unfamiliar environment. Then and there, that first and only night of my first Burn, I thought that someday, I wanted to build a movie theater in Black Rock City. I thought it would stun people and evoke a sense of wonder, just like the Fishmobile and Paddy Mirage and the Ambience Ambulance and the tented bar whose name I forget that served “Pink Things.” They all left me in a state of awe and delight. I thought about it for a few years, but didn’t share it with anyone. . . I mean, who do you tell? “I want to build a movie theater in the middle of the desert!” It sounds insane.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO:
How about you, Sam?

SAM GIPSON:
Well, in between Release’s de-virginization and the birth of the Bijou, I was declining Burning Man invitations from him. This became an annual discussion I had begun to expect from him, thinking I knew this kind of thing wasn’t for me. I guess I had it in my head that this was some kind of trip to Yosemite (I love Yosemite, for the record) but definitely not something I wanted to go all the way into the desert and spend that much time doing. Life’s funny. . . I judged Burning Man for years, and now it has opened me up to taking on life’s little curiosities instead of judging them. It was definitely a rite of passage for me.

I finally gave in to Release’s seduction and met him on the playa in 2007. I was blown away. . . I had never seen such liberation, openness, and – above all for me personally – creativity. There were no boundaries, and when that many minds are firing off together with no boundaries, you have a culmination of genius. What I was seeing on the playa was genius. I was trying to rationalize, reason, make sense of it all. Who was this wizard behind the curtain making all this stuff? It took me a couple of days but I stopped spectating quickly. I wanted to throw myself in. I wanted this, I had been wanting this, and Release knew it before I did.

The next year, we were out in deep playa, and Release said something about how cool it would be if there was a fully-functioning old movie theater right there, far away from everything. I didn’t think about it much; I may have laughed. He kept going, though; he stressed that this wouldn’t be a screen and a few chairs, this would be the real thing. A mind-fuck for the deep playa traveler. Real movie-sized candy, a candy counter, real seating. . . a real theater. It was a fun conversation and that’s how I took it.

The next year we found ourselves at Burning Man again and he brought it up again. We had more laughs and thought nothing of it. A few months later, he called me and told me that he really wanted to pull this off. I hadn’t taken him seriously until that point; I didn’t realize it then, but I do now; that’s where the wizard behind the curtain of Burning Man is hiding: long journeys into the deep playa.

Once Release made the decision to pull the trigger, he gave the design and execution of the job to an artist who we’ll refer to as ‘Skam’ for a number of reasons. This gentleman had worked with Release before, and he had an impressive résumé that indicated he was well-qualified for this massive undertaking. I was going to come in and assist this guy in anything he needed, and together we were going to make the vision of a movie house in the deep playa a reality.

Unfortunately, at a point when we were already about $7,000 pregnant, Skam abruptly vanished. Spirits were very low; here we had this warehouse and all this equipment, but no foreman, just some vague and unreadable plans, and no real qualifications ourselves for pulling off a large art installation of any quality.

Release told me he was willing to just cut his losses and heed the sign that this may not be meant to be. . . but by that time, I was a little too excited about the project. I had enjoyed three years of Black Rock City at the cost of others getting their hands dirty, and I felt overdue. I literally begged him to stay with the project and let me take the lead. I told him I’d do the project with a cheaper budget than Skam’s, and capitalized on our friendship with the old “you know damn well you can trust me.”

Release was very reluctant. He kept asking me discouraging – but necessary – questions, like “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” or “this is a huge undertaking, you know that, right?” or “have you ever done anything this large before?” I countered with more cheap shots like, “as a friend, I’m asking you to let me have this. Consider it a token of our friendship!”

"Welcome to the burn! Are you mentally prepared to take a loss?"

“Welcome to the burn! Are you mentally prepared to take a loss?”

I think between the guilt trip he knew he’d have over it, and the determination I was showing, he had to relent. . . so we got busy redesigning, and started anew. I later found out that he was mentally prepared to take a loss!

We recruited two more artists to help with the execution of the Bijou: Matthew Pearson, and my brother, Rocky Gipson. What you see in the build video is three guys hammering it out for two months in a warehouse. That’s it. That was shocking information to everyone who asked that first year, and even I look back on it and say “what were we thinking?” I would never try anything that big again with just three people. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re ignorant, though. . . and now we have a group of over a dozen that help get things done, whether it’s painting, building a website, or bringing extra candy to the scene mid-week.

Basically, the road from the Bijou’s conception to its birth was a spontaneous turn of events that in no way could have been planned. It just worked.

RELEASE:
Ha ha, yes, all true. Sam is describing that first year of the Bijou: 2010. After that we gradually grew the team by word of mouth. What was especially fun in that first year is that the Bijou was a surprise to everyone, including the Artery and DPW. The DPW folks would stop by and look on in astonishment. One DPW guy wondered if the reason we were so far out in the deep playa was because were on some sort of punishment with the Org! We explained that no, it was actually part of our concept. In fact, if it were on the Esplanade, it wouldn’t be the same at all; it would lose its magic. The Bijou is designed to be stumbled across, and I only ever wanted it in the deep playa; it’s the only place I ever want to do any installation. The deep playa people are my tribe at Burning Man. We’re not the bridge and tunnel crowd.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO:
Why a theater in particular?

RELEASE:
I have always been interested in film and classic film, going back to my childhood. I enjoy turning the unfamiliar on to the magic of classic cinema, and the Bijou lets us do that.

Searching for the Bijou

Searching for the Bijou

One of the great things about the playa is that it’s sort of a continuous exercise in being in the moment. So in the moment, when you duck under the curtain and enter our auditorium and a big John Ford image from the Monument Valley envelops your consciousness, it’s quite an experience. Sometimes in that moment you rediscover the magic of cinema, or might discover it or recognize it for the first time. That’s what the Bijou is about.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO:
I love it! You’ve transplanted a physical cinema to what Cacophonists call “the Zone,” — a concept that itself sprung from cinema, especially Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker — where we are forced to look at it with new eyes, as though it’s something we’ve never seen before. . . a rediscovery via forced or voluntary unfamiliarity, providing the visitor with a pry-bar for the mind.

I also like that your theater is smack dab in the middle of such a blank geographical canvas. The playa itself becomes a sort of theater as soon as anyone shows up and starts doing things, making things, and being things on it. The Bijou serves as an avatar of the playa-as-theater; it’s a kind of meta-playa within the playa, or meta-theater within that larger theater. Thank goodness you’re not showing Synecdoche, New York or any films about Burning Man in there; you’d probably create a cultural black hole or something and destroy us all!

So, what’s the current state of the Bijou, and what are your plans for it for the future? What do you need to make those plans a reality? How can people get involved and help?

RELEASE:
As you may know from our Kickstarter, we are undertaking some significant improvements, and if we get enough support from the burner community, we’ll be able to afford all of them for this year.

Our tradition is to execute a giant mural on the city-facing side of the theater each year; each year the illustration ties into the theme in some way. For this year, in honor of the Cargo Cult theme, we will execute the most famous desideratum in cinema history: Rosebud. That famous logo from Citizen Kane will grace the wall in Wildfire blacklight paint, illuminated by a massive spotlight. If it turns out like we want it to, it should stop you dead in your tracks, thinking about Rosebud and your own desiderata.

We’re also going to double the size of the lobby. It’s just too small for the crowds that like to pop in and visit us, so we will expand it and create more of a social space.

Lastly, and this is the big challenge, we’d like to create a huge vertical neon sign, in the tradition of most classic movie houses, with the theater name: BIJOU. Imagine that radiating out across the deep playa, a beacon and a lighthouse for the deep playa traveler. It’s expensive to do right, so while we’ve only asked for $10,000 in our Kickstarter, we really need to go well past that goal to get everything done that we want to do. . . $15,000 would cover it nicely.

"Let's settle this in the Thunderdome!"     "No, let's settle it in the Orgy Dome!"

“Let’s settle this in the Thunderdome!”
“No, let’s settle it in the Orgy Dome!”

One ugly curveball that came our way – one of those “five minutes before the playa” shockers that always challenge an art project – is that our candy donor for the last two years dropped out. We have been so lucky, each of the last two years, to get 4,000 theater-sized units of candy – everything from Snickers to Skittles to plain and peanut M&Ms – donated gratis to the Bijou. This made it possible for us to provide candy for virtually everyone that walked into the theater. We are looking for another donor. We realize it probably won’t be on that scale, but any leads in that respect would be much appreciated. We must have candy at the Bijou, though we probably won’t have the supply of prior years.

People can get involved and help in so many ways. At this point the best way is the Kickstarter, as fundraising is the current priority. Donating is great, but we could also use some help getting the word out through social media for the short remaining duration of the Kickstarter.

As for the build, our construction team is assembled and will be heading to the playa a week from Sunday. It’s a bit late to join that group, as early arrival passes are all distributed and we don’t have the opportunity to expand that further. . . but if you’re interested in helping us to build next year, get in touch via our Facebook page and let us know. Also, there may be opportunities to help us with tear-down this year, which is a much quicker process and usually begins within twelve hours of the Temple Burn. We do have to MOOP and do that stuff; many hands make easier work! Just give us a shout and we can connect you.

Beyond that, we’ve made investments this year and last so that the Bijou can be a perennial playa installation. We now have two big storage containers with the Burning Man Org, which greatly ameliorates the hassles of getting the theater to and from the playa. Provided the fundraising ends successfully, this year we will take the marquee, the sidewall, and the lobby up a big notch. We have taken steps to expand the team, which was originally just us and a couple of close pals. We came to the inevitable realization that the Bijou is just too big an undertaking for one small clique, so we’ve opened the clubhouse to those who share our passion. . . which means, of course, that it’s not like it was before. I think it’s better!

Each year we will reassess and let our imaginations inspire us as to how the theater should evolve. That first year we didn’t even have doors on the front. Each year we keep improving it, taking it closer to the ideal.

In my fantasies, eventually the theater will have a bona fide balcony up on the second level, beyond our raised platforms. I’d also love to get that camp that makes popcorn all week to come out and provide popcorn. A soft drink machine may be over the top, but a boy can dream. . . and if I could, I would love to hire an actress who looks like that sad old lady who ran the Royal Theater in The Last Picture Show, and have her stand behind the counter, taking tickets and giving out candy. Someone who looks like this is her job, and like she doesn’t even know she’s at Burning Man; someone who looks like she thinks she’s in Anarene, Texas, and it’s 1951. That would be the ideal!

Lastly, when it’s time for the theater to go, I don’t want it to just disappear. I’d like us to return to the playa, build the exterior completely, board it up, stick a ‘CLOSED’ sign on the front door with an apologetic, hand-written note from the owners, lamenting that we were a victim of changing consumer tastes, and talking about how we just couldn’t compete with that new multiplex in Black Rock City anymore. I want graffiti on the building, so it looks as if it’s clearly been abandoned and has gone to pot. Then the next year, we’ll reopen it as a seedy porn theater. The year after that, we’ll board it up and graffiti it up again. Finally, we’ll have a deliberate arson staged as performance art. The theater will go up in flames, calamitously, as fire trucks from Black Rock City race to the deep playa, sirens blaring. That’s how I’d like it to end.

Six Minutes of Pure Horror

by Whatsblem the Pro

 

You goddamn kids, dancing on my lawn in your underpants! Why, in my day. . .

We didn’t always have the Internet, you know, and the world was a lot less openly, deliciously freakish before you could go online and discover millions of people happily indulging in every fetish you’ve ever even thought of. . . like it’s normal! Because it is normal.

People didn’t necessarily know it was normal then, especially teenagers. As recently as the ’70s, the ho-hum trivialities of 21st Century non-vanilla sexuality – like mere transvestitism – were considered way beyond the pale; even something as ordinary and normal to us today as flamboyantly gay culture was seen as completely outrageous, in every sense of the word. . . unimaginable, even: there’s a scene in the film Behind the Candelabra in which one character points out to another that the audience in a Vegas nightclub watching Liberace perform in all his decadent sartorial excess on a stage dripping with gay pride weren’t being accepting of the star’s homosexuality; they were simply unaware of it, completely and totally. The Stonewall Riots didn’t take place until 1969, after all, and that shot heard ’round the world was still in the process of being heard.

If you were young then, you probably witnessed a lot of social horrors among your mates at school; kids seem to be significantly less vicious with each other now than they were in those days. The Internet, decades of integration, and the greying of the ’60s generation seem to have done a good job of getting kids to be nicer to and more comfortable with each other. In the ’70s, the peer pressure was intense. If you were a little unsure of yourself back then, possibly a little nerdy, maybe not too confident in your own sexuality or in expressing it, you didn’t have many avenues or outlets available to you for empowerment and camaraderie, or even for more information; you mostly had to wonder and fret about what kind of freak you really were.

There were touchstones of culture that helped, that allowed kids to identify each other as friendlies on the same fringe. Some of them were as simple as quotes from Monty Python skits. If you joined in on the first round of “spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam” then you had communicated that yes, you too got bullied and beaten up and mockingly called Professor Einstein for your smartitude, and now were among your own people. If you were a punk rocker in 1978 and you saw another punk rocker, your clothes and hair told the tale and you were instant friends, because there were so few of you and you had so much in common. Being gay or lesbian or bi or what have you? That was mostly some kind of super-secret club that did a lot of hiding out. The unlucky kids never twigged to the signal, or lived in places where they really were truly alone.

Some touchstones were deeper than others; some were real lifesavers for a lot of kids.

In the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show around the country gave a wide variety of people with certain unusual inclinations in common a way to meet each other and do a little acting out in a way that was terribly nerdy and terribly sexy. . . and tremendously liberating and empowering, often to a life-changing degree. Not just a film; a powerful message: don’t dream it, be it. Sound familiar? It should, ’cause in 1975, the Rocky Horror Picture Show was a lot like Burning Man.

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t watch it at home until you’ve seen it in the theater with a good crowd. It’s a theatrical experience, an audience participation experience, not a sit-on-your-ass piece of passive entertainment. Hit the nearest city and find a theater that shows it, dress in your most outlandish duds, and go. . . or, you could get your very first Rocky on (and maybe your rocks off) with the 2013 lineup of the Six-Minute Players at Camp Videogasm, a Burning Man theme camp located in Snowflake Village.

I got in touch with El Smith, the Six-Minute Players’ Coordinator/Director, and she was kind enough to write up the following brief history of Rocky Horror on the Playa for me in answer to my questions:

“RHPS on the playa was started by Tiki Bob in 2005 at Videogasm in Snowflake Village. I played Columbia that year and accidentally started an orgy onstage during the pool scene. . . but that’s another story. Someone at Videogasm called us “the Six Minute Players” because we had no rehearsal and didn’t meet up until six minutes before the show. We liked the name so we kept it. We put on a shadow show complete with a devirginizing ceremony, which changes every year.

Tiki Bob retired from RHPS at the end of the 2007 season and I took it over. At that time, and up until 2011, we had pretty much a new cast every year. With a new annual cast and no rehearsals, we were pretty much just a trannie free-for-all. Some people knew their roles well but for most people it was just an excuse to show off onstage while fucked up. . . which I didn’t have a problem with.

The Six Minute Players had a one-year hiatus in 2010 while I was recovering from a neurological disease that had paralyzed me twice, and I dropped the ball on temporarily handing over the reins. Videogasm still put on a shadow show that year but it wasn’t my cast and I didn’t have a hand in it so in my selfishness I don’t consider it one of the Six Minute Player shows.

I picked the show back up in 2011 and we’ve steadily taken it more and more seriously. I have a core cast now that will be returning for their third year with me, the costumes have gotten better, we have actual props now and there’s even a rehearsal! Of course we drink pretty much the entire rehearsal but we still do manage to get things done.

The show has just gotten better and better since 2011. We did experience a setback with our audience attendance last year due to our placement in Bumfuck, Egypt. We usually have an audience of at least two hundred people, and last year it looks like we only had about a hundred at most. I don’t care so much about attendance for myself; I don’t really do anything besides coordinate/direct the show and manage props, but I care for my actors. They put in a lot of work every year to make sure we only get better and being pissed on like that by placement is not cool. I don’t know, maybe one of the placement people used to be in the show and I told them they sucked and I didn’t want them back. Sounds like a reasonable explanation to me. Complete speculation of course.

Once again in their infinite wisdom, placement has decided for 2013 to once again marginalize the hard-working cast and crew of the Six Minute Players (not to mention the incredible audience-driven Videogasm) and has put us even further into Bumfuck, Egypt. We’ll be at 8:30 and E this year, and the ‘E’ does NOT stand for Esplanade. We were back in the middle of nowhere last year, too, but before that we were on the Esplanade for nearly fifteen years. . . which explains how we went from an audience of at least two hundred to less than a hundred last year.

The future of the Six Minute Players could very possibly be in jeopardy due to the increasingly poor decisions of the placement team. While there will always be a Rocky Horror Picture Show showing at Videogasm, regardless of the camp location, the Six Minute Players could very likely decide that the show is far too much work for so small an audience. We love and appreciate our audience and do it all for them, and would hate to have to close the curtain on our troupe. . . that would mean the terrorists, aka BMOrg, win.

I would like to do an actual live stage production of the Rocky Horror Show but until I can afford the equipment for that to be possible it will remain a pipe dream. I’m not interested in doing a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or other crowdfunding thing.

I have no plans to hand over the reins or end the show unless I’m paralyzed and stuck in the hospital again. Otherwise, we’ll keep on dancing in our fishnets and stilettos.”

This is the Six-Minute Players’ cast and crew list for 2013; core cast members are marked with an asterisk:

CAST

Frank. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Alyssa Smith*

Janet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kristen Craig*

Brad. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Michael Charles Douglas Reed

Riff. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sam Fish

Magenta. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MarZ Attack

Columbia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Heather Bewsee

Dr. Scott. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Hal Wrigley

Rocky. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . Geordie Van Der Bosch*

Eddie. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .Ranger Genius*

Crim. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .AntiM*

Trixie. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . Heather Tyler Harrell

Emcee. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . Nick Fedoroff

CREW

Backstage/Prop/Lighting. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Heather Tyler Harrell, Howard Clayton, Nick Fedoroff, Nathan Goulette

Photography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Wendi Corbin Goulette

Hosting Camp. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Videogasm @ Snowflake Village

Coordinator/Direction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .El Smith

(Jan Dirk Roggenkamp is also a core member who plays Brad, but is not able to make it to the playa this year due to the birth of his sons last week)

Behind the scenes on the film’s set, with interviews

Why I Love Zombie Movies

by Whatsblem the Pro

The Other White Meat -- Image: Whatsblem the Pro

The Other White Meat — Image: Whatsblem the Pro

Zombies. The shambling, hungry dead.

The initially-tiny cult phenomenon that was George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has been massively reprised and expanded over the years into a full-blown touchstone of mainstream culture. . . but it isn’t just the grotesque thrills of gore-horror that give the genre its legs. Beyond and below the surface of GRRAAARR BRAINS lies a durable contemporary allegory that has struck a resonance in the hearts and minds of a certain kind of person for over half a century.

FREE PUSSY RIOT!!!!!!!!!!!

FREE PUSSY RIOT!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m not talking about the multiple individual subtexts that some zombie movies – and all of Romero’s zombie movies – carry with them. There are a number of clear themes that emerge from these films; xenophobia and racism, feminism, consumerism and the emptiness of life lived solely in material pursuits. There are pointed questions posed about relational heirarchies, about the moral and ethical problems that pure science faces in the presence of military concerns that weaponize every discovery possible, about leadership and autonomy, about Communism and Capitalism, about the innate goodness (or badness) of people in general, and about the very warp and woof of the fabric of society as a whole.

All of these subtexts have the potential to be interesting and thought-provoking for any particular viewer, but none of them are the kind of thing that might make you want to go out and actually prepare for the Zompocalypse as though it could really happen. . . and yet there are people who do so, often with a glaring display of tongue-in-cheek, but sometimes in what seems to be total earnestness. A large part of that impulse is no doubt attributable to the not-very-subtle subtext of the end of civilization and the imminent crumbling of social order and the rule of law, but for me it’s deeper than that.

Aww, don't shoot, he looks so happy -- Image: Hammer FIlms

Aww, don’t shoot, he looks so happy — Image: Hammer FIlms

Other monster genre films leave me cold; I’m not wild about graphically violent horror in general although I can certainly take it. The point is that I don’t watch zombie movies to see rotting flesh being ripped apart by bullets, or to see the living torn limb-from-limb in the teeth of the dead. Even the goriest, ghastliest vampire movies make me yawn with all their brooding, overly-studied cool, although I certainly understand the wish-fulfilling empowerment fantasies they inspire in others. I find serial-killer slasher films dull and unrewarding, too, for the most part.

Why? Because here’s the thing about zombies: they’re not few and far-between, like vampires, or werewolves, or serial killers. When the Zompocalypse comes, the living are absolutely overwhelmed by the dead, and in no time, it is the survivors who are the rarity, not the monsters.

What does this make them?

For me it’s simple: the zombies, vastly outnumbering the living as they do, become the status quo. They, not the survivors, are the typical form of human life on Earth. The living, with their use of language and tools, their emotions and their emotional connections to each other, and their willingness to eat things no normal person would touch, are freakish, abnormal rarities.

And what is it that the zombies – i.e., the normal people – are constantly trying to do to these oddballs and outliers living on the fringes of their world?

Fine, go ahead and eat me -- Photo: Nate 'Igor' Smith

Fine, go ahead and eat me — Photo: Nate ‘Igor’ Smith

One of two things: infect them with normalcy, or turn them into a product, to be consumed.

If you’re an artist, and you earn your living by making art, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re beholden to nobody; you’re even free to some extent in a way that no corporate ladder-climber or blue-collar serf could ever be, but life can be peculiarly hard for you, and people often don’t understand you very well. Sometimes, especially if they’re family, they put pressure on you to give up your aspirations and leave the difficult, lonely path you’ve chosen, to join the herd and pursue cookie-cutter notions of worldly success that, to your way of thinking, resemble a kind of living death. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure most of those people in your life are nice folks with nothing but good intentions, but in our allegory they are best represented by the zombies.

What happens if you’re a successful artist, and the public gets to probing and clawing at you with their nerveless, idiot fingers? What happened to Michael Jackson? I’ll tell you what happened to Michael Jackson: starting with his own father when Michael was just an innocent tot, the normal people commodified him, wrapped him in plastic and bought and sold him as an item of consumption, like the neatly-packaged ground beef they sell at your local supermarket, isolated from its origins, sanitized for your protection, a natural thing made utterly, completely unnatural. They ate Michael Jackson.

DPW's Vaughn Solo is ready -- Photo: Jessica Reeder

DPW’s Vaughn Solo is ready — Photo: Jessica Reeder

Sure, Jocko is an extreme example, but the same is true of almost any famous artist whose name and face are in the public eye. Most of us dream of fame and fortune, but how would we really feel if we were unable to simply walk down the street like an ordinary person without being pursued and mobbed by random strangers?

The real beauty of zombie movies is that although the allegory that pits heavily outnumbered freaks against a status quo juggernaut is a sort of depressingly accurate commentary on what we, as real-life freaks, are up against, it all takes place in a consequence-free environment. This is where the subtext departs from reality and offers us our reward in the form of some satisfying wish-fulfillment: you can shoot the bastards in the head, and nobody will get mad at you. Hell, you’ll probably get a pat on the back and maybe even build some camaraderie with your co-freaks by pulling that trigger.

Note that you have to shoot a zombie in the head, in the brain, to make it stop. This is because our struggle in real life is a struggle of ideas. We can’t literally kill all the normal people in order to secure our own survival as artists and weirdos; we have to kill the normal ideas in their heads instead. We have to kill the way they think.