by Steve Cole
I found the theater by accident one night far out in the deep playa. The deep playa is where few people go, far from the city but still within the official boundary. Notice in the photo that you see nothing in the distance – only the people by the theater. I found it at 2 in the morning on my way back to the city from seeing the art projects and wildly varied interactive and other things widely scattered in the dark a mile or three from the city. I spent 7 or 8 hours on my bike going from one distant speck of light to another in the total darkness of the vast expanse of the “DEEP PLAYA” (drums beating slowly in the background as “Deep Playa” is read). The playa is perfectly flat and level. The temperature feels like it’s in the 70s at night, and it’s easy to pedal over the surface. You don’t have to worry about hitting anything going fast way out there because it’s, well, perfectly flat and level. (People and bikes have lights. They’re supposed to.)
Did I mention that I was wearing a white seersucker suit with thin blue pinstripes — matching coat and pants — that I borrowed from the Pewter Plough Playhouse (live theater) in my little town of Cambria?
So I saw this point of light by itself off to the left. “Why not?” I asked myself (but of course not out loud). As I sped closer, the light kept getting brighter and larger until I saw what it was — a theater with a bright marquee in front and the building all lit up. My amazement was further compounded by “How in the world could anybody even find this so far out and in the dark????” There were a ton of bikes out front, and the theater was full. (And I have absolutely no explanation regarding that so just don’t ask. But the unexplained is what these people seem to trade in. Alice and Dorothy would have been proud.)
I wished someone had been there to take a picture of my face. Mouth and eyes wide open in amazement with the half of my face in disbelief fighting the other half with the smirking smile of a child. Then I remembered that this is Burning Man and that shiny thread of creativity, art and the unexpected whips right through this dark deep playa, snagging people, freeing them, and heading off to our city (which was possibly somewhere to my right, maybe a mile or 2 or 3). The marquee above listed the movie, and I entered through the double glass doors. Theater guy immediately asked what candy I wanted — all free, of course, since this is a “gifting” culture (no buying, selling or trading allowed, you remember) — and sent me to what looked like a rabbit hole to see the movie (A 3 1/2 foot hole with strips of material hanging in it.) When I emerged on the other side with my candy I was in a real theater. The screen covered the entire back wall and the seats were those extra-large well-padded kind that moved back when you sat in them and had cup holders. Oh yeah!
How’d they get all this from far away to the desert in the middle of nowhere and set up with electricity and everything? And in the normal, or “default” world, you’d also ask “And WHY?” with such a very serious face. I wasn’t wearing the kind of shoes to click my heels or possess a potion to drink to get back to the normal world so I just had to have faith. I relaxed in my comfortable chair watching *His Girl Friday* with that well-known what’s his name and what’s her name. Later, when I poked my head out the rabbit hole and looked around, the theater lobby and everything was still there — so I emerged, still in that curious magical Burning Man world. And the theater? I wouldn’t know where to find it again.
I knew this world couldn’t last forever, so I just resolved to participate and enjoy it while it lasted. And I was right. But I was wrong that I didn’t create it since, beyond the seeding of this environment, the interaction and the creative freedom of participation of people results in the creation and nature of this city. So now I see that’s why I had to experience it to understand its uniqueness. A few days later, it all ended, and I’m told that there’s not a thing there now that wasn’t there before. Not a string or a ring, not a thread or a bed, not a button or mutton, not a footprint — not even a MOOP! So that’s the scoop. And to tell the truth, it coulda been a dream. I’ll have to tell ya when I get back from it next year.