Burning Man Storytelling Moves From the Fringes to the Main Stage

Categories: bmglc17,Regionals,Tales From The Playa

I am in the Bedroom on a hot, humid summer afternoon in Washington, D.C. Although the city being built on a swamp is just an urban legend, it is days like this that make me question if it might actually be true. The windows are closed, and there are about sixty of us in a room around 800 square feet in floor space. And Ten Principles )'( — the new show I am hosting at the Capital Fringe Festival — is about to begin.

The Bedroom is a makeshift theatre space on the second floor of a building that is vacant for the other 11 months of the year as it waits to be reincarnated by a willing developer. It’s 2014, and I’m nervous because I had only just gone to Burning Man for the first time not even a year before, and I already wanted to give something back. I also wanted a chance for the community to celebrate our stories on stage. And in the mix, I had a desire for stories to be shared that might provide a glimpse of the personally transformative possibilities of Burning Man, something to combat the typically sensationalist media coverage, which constitutes the bulk of what many Washingtonians may think they know about the event.

Would they love it? Would they hate it? Would they find some kernel of a single story that would resonate with them? Would they find themselves completely disconnected from any of the stories shared on stage? These were questions I had not just about the non-Burners in the crowd, but the Burners as well.

But the show must go on, and I introduce myself and begin to tell the story about my names, from the full name I was born with to the one I was gifted at Playa Name Help. One by one, I would introduce each Burner to the stage, to share their story. One by one, each teller would receive their applause from the crowd. And one by one, the reviews would share their own experience of the show, from the general:

“Throughout Ten Principles, you do believe in the

AprilMay 2024June
’s collective power to bring people together to build a city and culture in the middle of a dessert if only to burn it down eight days later.”

Richard Barry, DC Theatre Scene

To the personal:

10 Principles )'( is so powerful and incomparable that I find myself wondering if I could also find home in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.”

— Vanessa Terzaghi, DC Metro Theater Arts

We would go on to sell out our final two performances at the festival, which was completely amazing. Many of the participants in the show were first-timers to the stage. And many in the audience came because they were curious to know and hear more about That Thing in the Desert. Even better than the applause would be the conversations audience and cast would have after the show, at the festival’s main tent and bar, because that’s the real power of art and storytelling in building community. Just listening to the questions and the other stories the show had inspired both audience and cast to share… well, it felt amazing. I would go on to produce a new iteration of the show each year at Capital Fringe. In addition to the annual production, I have also begun presenting quarterly one-night storytelling events, as well as teaching workshops at regional festivals.

Want some more Burning Man stories right the heck now? Check out Tales from the Playa.

At the 2017 Global Leadership Conference, storytelling came up multiple times in different forms. It popped up in a couple plenary sessions, from an in-depth look into the second annual Catharsis on the Mall to a sneak peek live reading from a book by Burning Man Storytelling Fellow and Black Rock City Superintendent Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet. One breakout session brought up storytelling as a way of “Measuring Impact Across the Network”, looking at how we capture not only necessary data but great stories, too.

I’m seeing Burning Man blossom as a storytelling culture, and I am ever-curious about how else storytelling has manifested itself in our global community. I’m hoping to connect with those who might fit into one of the two following categories: The first would be others are already doing storytelling, on playa or off. The second would be those who would like to do more storytelling in some form in their own community.

The Story Portal immediately comes to mind as an example of the former, especially poignant for me since I heard about it and then finally came across it during my first Burn. I’d like to see who’s doing what around the world and create a Burner storytelling network. It could be a resource for Burners interested in knowing and doing more with storytelling in their own region.

Want to be a part of it? Let me know in the comments.

Top photo: Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet reading at the 2017 GLC (Photo by Chuck Revell)

Author: JR "Nexus" Russ