The man behind the idea has never been to Burning Man. Does that make him a pre-Burner?
The musical is the brainchild of Matt Werner, a 30-year-old New York City-based Google employee who has never been to Burning Man. This year will be his first.
The Oakland, Calif. native — a former “hacker house” resident and a friend to many Silicon Valley hipster techies — admits that he sees the irony: A virgin Burner orchestrates a musical version of the world’s favorite desert Utopian festival that he has never been to.
His own story seems to be a little bit reflected in the plot of the unborn musical. The story line focuses on a 25-year old techie named Joe who lives in San Francisco and commutes down to Silicon Valley.
Joe goes to Burning Man one year and it disappoints initially.
Who wants to dance with a sparkle pony, right?
“His lofty ambitions to network with high-powered executives are not met. Between getting dumped by his girlfriend, dancing with sparkle ponies, and nearly dying while on a vision quest in the desert, he reaches a real low,” according to Werner’s web page.
“In the midst of this low, the acceptance, connection, and playfulness he experiences at Burning Man make him start to question his past life of ambition and power in Silicon Valley. The sharing economy and free spirits he meets in the desert make him wonder--is his real mission in life just to make money? Or is it maybe to authentically connect with others and help others?” the synopsis reads.
Q: Are you going to be critical at all of Burning Man and its direction? Is this just about a trip to Burning Man, about Burning Man? Or is it about Burning Man and its direction today?
I’m using “Book of Mormon” as a model. It does satirize the Mormon faith, but it does celebrate it too. It’s laughing with them, and not at them. It is going to be a satirical piece. It’s going to be a musical comedy. I mean, people recognize the absurdity of the festival. It is going to be a celebration of the values, and about the conflict between Silicon Valley and Black Rock City.
Q: Which side of that conflict are you on?
For me, I live in multiple worlds. I’ve worked at Google for five years, but I’m going to go to Burning Man. What is interesting to me, this notion of utopia. Some people I know, they believe that technology will solve all the world’s problems. Then there’s this other version of utopia, where we’re really in tune with ourselves. What I think is fascinating is seeing these worlds collide. I’ve lived in both of them. I used to live with these Russian programmers living in this “hacker house” pad. But we’ve had these really deep, meaningful conversations about all of this. Some of the media depictions have really hammed up the influence of these guys.
Q: So, do these techies come back changed people? Can you be a Google guy, or a tech savant, and be a true Burner too?
If you’re a billionaire, can you really say you’re a Burner? I really don’t know. Working at Google, the co-founders, they’ve all been to Burning Man. Some of the Silicon Valley people that go — some of the guys, they’re going to hook up with girls, and do drugs, and dance. There’s others who are radically transformed, and who do decide to find other work. I don’t have a statement I am trying to make: Silicon Valley, bad; Burning Man, good, or vice versa
A few weeks back we told you about The Man Burns, a new play set at Burning Man. The author, David Vernon, has given us an update on his vision:
At first it was just a play—a serious play with Burning Man as the backdrop. I’ve been a professional writer for years and I study and adore the work of Tennessee Williams, Christopher Durang, Terrence McNally and Jane Anderson. All of these writers use a very strong sense of place. “A Streetcar Named Desire” isn’t a play about New Orleans and “Peter Pan” isn’t a play about London, but because the locations fit so well thematically, you know those plays couldn’t take place anywhere else. Then, one day about a year ago, I fell into the Burning Man rabbit hole. My partner and I were seeing a play at the Music Center in downtown L.A. After being held captive by the spell that a good play can cast, we ended up walking the streets of downtown. My partner, Crespin mentioned on the way to our car, “Wouldn’t it be great if your play could be like an evening at Burning Man?” That thought changed everything.
Why should a play set inside a Mongolian yurt at Burning Man be like a regular night at the theater? Shouldn’t there be music and art cars and playa drinks and clothing exchanges…and grilled cheese sandwiches? Why couldn’t a theater piece extend the story or the world of the story? I know that this isn’t a revolutionary idea—there has been site-specific theater and immersive theater events going on for decades, but it seemed like a perfect fit for my play.
“The Man Burns” is about a group of strangers that take refuge inside a Mongolian yurt during a four-hour whiteout at Burning Man. Their interaction, their shared stories of what brought them to the playa, and their conflict about what Burning Man is about and what it means makes up the bulk of the plot. I wanted to emulate one of those great nights on the playa where you share your heart and soul with a group of strangers.
Every Burner I’ve met has someone that they’d like to bring to Burning Man. They look at the photos and listen to all of our crazy stories, but they have their own reasons for not being able to attend. This idea of extending the play and making the whole evening like a night at Burning man seemed like a great way to introduce the experience and the principals of Burning Man to these people.
The biggest challenge is bringing these two pieces together—the play and the event that surrounds the play. Initially, my worry was that the ‘night at Burning Man’ would overwhelm the play. But ‘story’ is most important to me—so much so that I found a way that the elements of the event could become a part of the play. The MakiMaki bar is talked about in the play by one of the characters. And now it is also the bar that is in the lobby—and it will even have its own Facebook page.
We are in the last few days of a Kickstarter right now. It is a very difficult climate out there for new theater pieces. My hope is that the community will want to become a part of this and make this their own. And after it premieres in San Francisco and Los Angeles I could travel with it and bring it to some cool cities across the U.S, like Lexington, Kentucky has a huge Burner contingent and is cutting edge on the arts scene. Every night in every city could be a completely different evening, depending on what people bring—a marching band, their own art cars—a new experience every night, just like Burning Man
Here are some audio files of short scenes from the play:
The Man Burns is a play set at Burning Man, to be performed outside Burning Man. The playwright is David Vernon, who grew up in a showbiz family: his dad was the voice of Frosty the Snowman.
It’s quite an interesting vision. For those who may or may not be going to Burning Man this year – perhaps you’re still waiting for tickets – this is an art project you can support, and be a part of, and get to enjoy. You can bring friends and family to it, to give them a taste of Burner culture without making them breathe and bathe in Playa dust. It meets the Burning Man Project’s mission of facilitating the extension of Burner culture through the world, so you can feel all Burnier-than-thou and Ten Principally about backing it too.
It’s a Kickstarter, so if Burners don’t fund it, it won’t get made. Which would be a pity, because it sounds like a fun evening’s entertainment. They’ve hit 10% of their funding goal already, so any support you can give them would be appreciated. For any aspiring actors, young and old, for a mere $350 you can get a part in the production.
A BRAND NEW THEATRICAL EVENT THAT BRINGS BURNING MAN TO YOU
THE MAN BURNS is a mystical, joyous theatrical observation on Burning Man and a glimpse into the lives of people who make this epic trek once a year. This interactive play breaks down the walls and gives you a night at Burning Man
This is not a play that will be performed at Burning Man-this will be performed off-playa, in your city, in a theater.
You walk up to the theater to see a performance of a new play, “The Man Burns.” Out front is an art car playing music and getting the evening going. When you enter the theater the first thing you notice is a group of people gathered around a costume exchange picking out free colorful clothing accessories like a faux fur mantle or a set of glowing devil horns to wear inside the theater. If you brought an extra costume piece you can leave it behind for someone else.
Next, you’ll come across an old tiki bar called MAKIMAKI, the kind of bar you might accidentally happen on the esplanade at Burning Man. MAKIMAKI is decorated with well-traveled thrift shop tiki items. The house cocktail is of course, the MAKIMAKI, but there are other playa-themed cocktails as well. And a jar of pickled eggs on the counter.
When you go inside you’ll notice that the theater is decorated like the inside of a Mongolian yurt with beautiful tapestries lining the walls. The play begins. If you’ve never been to Burning Man you will be transported to this far-off, mysterious place. If you’ve been to the playa before you will find yourself back home, in the middle of a conversation about connectivity, overwhelming art, accidental sharts, (or accidental art and overwhelming sharts), late night poutine and Burning Man urban myths.
During intermission and after the play there might be a marching band or or someone playing jazz songs on their ukelele or grilled cheese sandwiches being handed out. The party will change from city to city because YOU are the party.
WHY WON’T MY AUNT TILLEY COME TO BURNING MAN?
It’s too hot. It’s overrun by naked hippies. It’s too far away. There are no real showers. It used to be better ten years ago.
Those are some of the reasons I’ve heard from friends and relatives about why they’ll never come to Burning Man. But they love hearing stories about the playa and looking at all the photographs. Selfishly, I thought that by making “THE MAN BURNS” an interactive night with some fun, exciting elements of Burning Man, I could give all of my friends a Burning Man night. And you can too. Everyone has at least 5 friends or relatives who say they’ll never go. Bring them to see “THE MAN BURNS” and share the experience with them.
My name is David Vernon and I grew up in a show biz family. My dad was a comedian and the voice of Frosty the Snowman. I spent my childhood backstage at The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and wondering why my father was never the “Secret Square” on The Hollywood Squares. I also grew up with a love of story. I would read a play then perform them with my sisters Barbies. In fact, her Barbie dream house was redressed many times and became the set for “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Eventually, I took my love of story to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU where I studied Film and TV.
I have been a professional writer for the past twenty years. I’ve written short fiction (which has been widely anthologized), screenplays (a film I wrote, “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was released by Regent films.) I was recently commissioned to write three short scripts for an upcoming feature film anthology about the city of Berlin by the producers of “New York, I Love You.” I’ve written essays on Salon (http://www.salon.com/2000/12/20/frosty/ …I didn’t know it at the time but all of these projects and jobs were training grounds for my most challenging and exciting project to date.
A whiteout is announced at Burning Man over the radio. People are warned to take shelter. Within moments several strangers run into a Mongolian yurt to get away from the wind storm.
The strangers include: ANDY and BUNNY EARS, a gay couple that own the Mongolian Yurt and were preparing for a hot sexual encounter with someone they met on the playa. FIREFLY, a virgin burner who just dropped her first ever hit of MDMA and was on her way to a dance club, PERSEPHONE, an Australian sci-fi actress looking for a ride share to Venice Beach after having another disappointing day on the playa, MOWGLI, a bouncy, energetic young guy dressed entirely in blinky lights who communicates only through motion, MARY ANIMALS, a 60 year old woman who comes to Burning Man on her own and sets up a coffee stand (with the worst coffee on the playa), that is destroyed in the white out, and an ex-marine with an unfortunate sense of direction, known as McRIB, who is dressed in a sketchy Ronald McDonald outfit who was on his way to fight at Thunderdome but got lost.
The result is some funny chaos as these characters, and a few others, spend the evening connecting, disconnecting, arguing, and telling their Burning Man stories; some heartbreaking, some extraordinary.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince
I’ve been going to Burning Man for the past eleven years and have also been active in the Burner community. During that time I’ve witnessed many fascinating Burning Man stories unfold in front of me. I’ve also met so many fascinating and unique individuals. Their stories inspired me to write “THE MAN BURNS.”
The people who go to Burning Man travel a great distance and experience great joy, and sometimes hardship in search of….what exactly? A unique vacation? An opportunity to meet like-minded people? A chance to become part of something bigger than ourselves…part of an artistic experiment? After years of taking notes, I became passionate about writing a play that explored these questions.
For many people, “THE MAN BURNS” might be the closest they come to attending Burning Man. For others it might be their first introduction to this amazing place. For Burners, I hope the play might be a catalyst for them to further discuss their own experiences and stories.
…I decided to rededicate myself to only telling stories that mattered–to me, and hopefully to others. I wanted to dream big–bigger than ever before. The concept for THE MAN BURNS came to me about a week later. And this has been my dream ever since.
I have been developing the story and working on “THE MAN BURNS” for the past three years.There is still more work to be done to get the play up and running…I will be counting on the passion of tight knit community of artists to help bring this dream alive on a limited budget.
Any money raised beyond my goal will pay for more faux fur rugs. I’m only half joking. The design of the inside of the yurt is based on I Dream of Jeannie’s bottle and needs to be as ornate as possible. And more tapestries to decorate the set. And more fake playa dust to fly through the yurt door whenever someone opens it. It will also be used to give the creative team more options to create a bigger, better evening. We would also be able to perform the play for more than one night in each city. We’d like to put more items on the clothes exchange rack. And more importantly, paying the creative team a little better for all of their hard work. All of the money will be up their on the stage. So if you can afford to donate generously, please do. The more money the more elaborate the production.
I’ve written the play. …Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition–if I don’t reach my goal I don’t receive any of the funds donated. This is a dream that can’t happen without you.