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