Einstein Goes to Burning Man

by Whatsblem the Pro
[With apologies to James ‘Kibo’ Parry]



We’ve written before about the increasingly cultish aspects of Burning Man. Recently, a good deal of controversy has begun flying in the Burning Man group on Facebook over “plug ‘n’ play” camping, a scheme in which a Burning Man attendee pays to have a nice RV with all the amenities waiting for him or her when they arrive on the playa, parked in a fully-equipped theme camp that may even have paid hirelings to attend to their needs.

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Albert Einstein showed up for his very first visit to Black Rock City, all ready for his hard-earned week’s vacation from the mathematics factory where he rolled fat numbers for corporate fatcats all day. “Home,” Einstein intoned nostalgically to the empty air as the grinning Gate people snap-tightened their filthy latex gloves and pulled him out of his car by his famous hair.



Later, having found his camp, Einstein settled into his plug-n-play RV to do some real math, for fun, like he always did on vacation. Last year he had flown down to Puerto Vallarta to relax by the seaside, and ended up inventing nuclear math candy. The year before, he’d gone to Banff to ski, and came home with plans for a new kind of television that would allow viewers to sense what was on the screen as a powerful burning sensation on the skin, so they could watch TV with their eyes closed (for a few seconds). He poured himself a big ice-cold glass of Krug, slathered a bagel with caviar and whipped cream, and settled in to think about times tables and other math things.

Just as he was about to come up with a Unified Field Theory of Bacon, Einstein heard a pounding on his RV door. “COME OUT OF THERE AND BE SELF-RELIANT,” boomed a voice through the layers of laminated plasticized chipboard that made up the wall of the behemoth luxury vehicle. The shock drove the lovely, elegant equations right out of Einstein’s head. Just as the final wisp of his Unified Field Theory of Bacon leaked out his ears, the door of the RV burst inward and disappeared in a hazy cloud of plasticized splinters, and a phalanx of bullhorn-carrying, angry-looking young people with terrible sunburns and cups attached to their belt loops on carabiners came barging in like they owned the place.

“WE ARE THE SELF-RELIANCE POLICE,” said the one who was obviously in charge to Einstein. Through his bullhorn. From a quarter of an inch away. Eleven times. “DEATH TO PLUG ‘N’ PLAY HERETICS!” screamed another, filth-caked fist held high. She was wearing a sandwich board sign with the Ten Principles written on it, and nothing else. “WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR FUDGY THE WHALE BLEACHED?” inquired a third, proffering a large mixing bowl full of what was apparently ass bleach. A fourth, grinning nastily, brandished what looked like a branding iron in the shape of a Burning Man logo.

Einstein was tongue-tied as they seized him, bound his wrists to his ankles (not with his tongue, thank god), and carried him outside to watch the group rummage through his stuff and set his RV on fire. As the flames rose and roared into the sky, they danced around the burning recreational vehicle, chanting “HO-LY, HO-LY, HO-LY FIRE! UNBELIEVER’S FUNERAL PYRE! HO-LY, HO-LY, HO-LY FIRE!”

“YOU SEE,” explained their leader to Einstein through his bullhorn as he wolfed down the great scientist’s entire week’s supply of bacon, “YOU HAVE TO BE SELF-RELIANT OUT HERE, OR YOU’RE NOT BEING A BURNER. WE CAN’T HAVE THAT; BURNING MAN IS A PLACE TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT, SO IF YOU COME OUT HERE THINKING YOU CAN JUST DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD, WE HAVE TO CORRECT YOU.” At that point, his bullhorn became too clogged with bacon to continue functioning, so he put it down and began putting the delicious strips of cured pork directly into his mouth instead.

When the fire had burned down to embers and they had consumed all his food and water and booze, the invaders stripped Einstein naked, shaved off all his hair, pointed him toward the open desert, and slapped him smartly on his ass (which now sported a cute, pink, clean-looking Fudgy the Whale, and a painfully fresh brand on one cheek). Einstein yelped and trotted out onto the vast, flat, talcum-covered expanse. “I guess I’d better get busy digging a well, or growing some food, or something,” thought the freshly-shaven genius glumly.

Just then, a massive, solid-gold, diamond-encrusted recreational vehicle to end all recreational vehicles pulled up right in front of him. The door swung open with a BANG! and a tall, spectrally-pale man in a really nice Stetson hat stepped down onto the playa, crushing an entire family of fairy shrimp with one stylish Tony Lama cowboy boot. He looked like the product of an unspeakable menage-a-deux between Marshall Applewhite and Boo Berry, the General Mills cereal ghost.

“Hi, Einstein!” said the man around his enormous Havana cigar. “I’m Larry Harvey! Welcome to Burning Man! Glad to see you’re being so self-reliant.”

An unspeakable menage-a-deux

An unspeakable menage-a-deux

Harvey snapped his fingers, and a large spider-like creature wearing a double-breasted suit and power tie on its ungainly arachnoid body scuttled out of the RV behind him, a folded piece of paper clenched in its terrifying mandibles. A smile seemed to cross the thing’s. . . face? as it thrust the paper rudely at Einstein, who grasped it gingerly between two fingers as though it might also bite. As the malevolent-looking horror retreated once more into the air-conditioned shade of the RV, Einstein clumsily unfolded the document in his hands while trying not to actually touch it.

A subpoena?

“Sorry about the lawsuit, Einstein, but we just can’t have people going around infringing on our intellectual property like that,” frowned the soft-spoken cult leader as he disapprovingly eyed the fresh brand on Einstein’s ass. “Oh, by the way,” added Harvey, his eyebrows raised in sudden afterthought, “have you done any good math lately? If you’ll read the back of your ticket, you’ll see that we actually own that, too. Don’t forget to register any Unified Field Theories of Bacon you happen to run across with the Math Mecca people!” And with that, Harvey gave a jaunty wave and vanished into thin air. The diamond-encrusted solid-gold RV chuffed disdainfully as its air brakes were released, and rolled off into the shimmering superheated distance.

Einstein stared dumbly at the subpoena, then at the brand of the Man on his ass, then at the subpoena again. He couldn’t do any relaxing vacation math without Larry Harvey and his friends taking ownership of it away from him, and his ass already belonged to them! Burning Man was ruined!

Or was it?

On the verge of tears over his sad plight, Einstein almost failed to notice the discarded bullhorn at his feet. Wonderingly, he picked it up, held it to his lips, and pushed the TALK button. His words came booming out of the bell, amplified into a stentorian command voice that sounded like it would brook no insolence from anyone: “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.” Einstein lowered the bullhorn from his mouth and gazed at it, deep in thought, then looked up toward the horizon, where he could see a group of people erecting a giant wooden statue of Josef Stalin sporting an enormous hard-on. He looked again at the bullhorn in his hands, and again at the statue-erectors, and a grim, purposeful grimace stretched his ancient face across his skull. He knew what he must do. Burning Man was saved!

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:


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


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

The Apocalypse Has Already Happened: Burning Man and the Théâtre de Compost


Allie’s Alley at 900 W. 5th Street in Reno, Nevada is an odd hybrid of a place: thrift store in front, theater in the rear.

Burner-owned and operated, Allie’s has lately become the new home of local playwright and Nevada Arts Council artist-in-residence Pan Pantoja‘s stage production 6:01 AM A Working Class Opera, which enjoyed a run at Reno’s Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. The cast, the crew, and the staff at the venue are nearly all burners, and a number of them are past Temple Crew members.

It would be cheap and easy to dismiss the play – and the venue – as hopelessly lowbrow, amateurish, and lacking in production values; it is, after all, a play being put on in the back of a thrift store, in a theater reminiscent of something from an episode of the Little Rascals in the ’30s. Such a dismissal would be an error. It may seem random and ghetto, but what’s going on down at Allie’s Alley – the venue, and the material being produced – should properly be regarded as a whole new school of theater all by itself. It’s a school of theater for the world as it is, now. I call it “Théâtre de Compost,” and I expect some great things to come of it.

The basic assumptions of the last fifty years in theater and cinema have all been geared toward the idea that some kind of doom or transformation is imminent; 6:01 AM and the Théâtre de Compost approach are built on the assumption that the apocalypse we’re all tensed for has already quietly happened, and that there’s a life well worth living in moving forward and building something out of the ruins and artifacts around us. Not only is the set built out of junk and salvage as specified in the script; the theater itself is built out of junk and salvage, and the junk and salvage on sale in the thrift store at the front of the building serves as the theater’s prop and costume departments.


It’s a very burnerly thing to behold. Give these people your cast-offs, your garbage, your chanceless, your rejected people and broken toys and worn-out tools, and they will gather and mix and turn and ferment and remix them. They will make fertile soil from your garbage, and grow a strange and bright new garden to cover the spent ruins they’ve inherited.

6:01 AM is a perfect fit for the Théâtre de Compost aesthetic. Unlike ten thousand plays that have come before, it’s not a worried warning of big trouble brewing, or a cynical condemnation of contemporary society and civilization; it’s more of an outright dismissal. The assumptions built into it are beyond the clichés of impending doom, and comprise an open recognition that not only is virtually everything about contemporary life in the First World already broken and derelict, but that this is self-evident and not a revelation to anyone. It’s a play for people who already understand that our civilization is, if not dead, mortally wounded; that mainstream culture is unsatisfyingly irrelevant; that in the vacuum thus created, our ways and means of standing together have been revealed as weak and corrupted.

The play is comprised of a loosely-connected series of vignettes in which the residents of a run-down apartment complex in Reno show us slices of their lives in intimate detail, sometimes delivering monologues directly to the audience. Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology and Bertolt Brecht’s school of Epic Theater come to mind. The actors’ lines are spoken or rapped in hip-hop cadences and often rhyme; the spoken word portions of the play are punctuated with full-blown outbursts of song at times.


If you can make it to Reno, don’t miss it. If you can’t make it to Reno, take some inspiration from the Théâtre de Compost. Work with what you’ve got, pursue your vision, and build what seems worth building to you, regardless of how obvious the decay around you may be.


Allie's Alley presents:
6:01 AM A Working Class Opera
through mid-February
900 W. Fifth St., Reno, NV, 89503
For show times and future events, call (775) 391-0278