Barron Scott LevKoff’s Mystical Midway

This year the Man will be surrounded by a most exquisite clever Midway, a Carnival of Mirrors where participants can turn the surfaces reflecting themselves inside out if they dare, and by participating they may very well discover the multifarious circus of our ordinary life and create new personas. The Midway beckons to us to discover new perspectives and bring them out into the world at the conclusion of our week in Black Rock City.

Our Midway is going to be populated with mind-bending and playful attractions, and I was most fortunate to meet one of this year’s artists, Barron Scott LevKoff aka The Professor, who will be bringing his Mystical Midway to that space around the Man this year.

Barron Scott LevKoff Talking with Scott you get a feeling of how whimsical yet intentional he is. A self described dandy with a very sharp and developed mind highly attuned to the creative force, he is a font of brilliance and ideas flow from him in rapid succession; ideas that range from casual mentions of conscious evolution, social theater, the Human Potential Movement, Wisdom Sharing Networks and Cosplay, to his use of carnivalesque motley fools, hobos, devils , angels and roaming puppetry to provide tools for the creator culture that he cares very deeply about.

He’s spent time sharing the Beauty Engine Social Design he and Polly Superstar created in the early 2000’s. He told me about his work with Polly on another venture, Mission Control, where they tested out, in his words, the “language for creative collaboration” and the “commonalities of social dynamics, social techniques and methods that are similar among creative communities.” Mission Control worked with thousands of people, some of them digerati, and provided inspiration for social networks that came into being including the Abundance League that became Shareable.

Edwardian Ball  Mystic MidwayHe and I sat down for tapas and sangria in the Mission and Scott shared with me his experience of the last 25 years as a performer. Barron Scott LevKoff has had a hand in creating or participating in some of the more surreal ongoing events in the San Francisco Bay Area including Anon Salon, The Edwardian Ball, Mission Control, The Renaissance Faire at Black Point Forest, Club Ritual, Soookeasy, Master Mondos Cabare’, Lost Horizons Box Trucks, Kinky Salon and the Lagunitas Beer Circus to name a few, with his most recent foray being his Mystic Midway.

His involvement in the San Francisco Alternative scene is somewhat epic.

I asked him to tell me about his Mystical Midway that will grace Black Rock City this year and the description poured out of him …

“The Mystic Midway is a trans-media STORYWORLD based on the characters and attractions you might find in a strange, mystical carnival: “The Hat of Many Closets”, “Mister Nobody’s Swamp Shack”, “The Mirror Maze”, the “Haunted Castle” and characters such as Lady Fortuna, Mister Nobody, the Blue Mystic, Professor Grimaldi, The Snakeoil Salesman and others. Each of these characters and attractions has a corresponding card that illustrates a specific area of inquiry attributed to each. Our Mystic Midway ensemble of performers brings these characters to life and we have also created a Cosplay guide crafted specifically as an invitation for anyone to create their own Midway persona and join the Midway!

Mystic Midway“We also bring the Mystic Midway to life through fantastical sets, props, banners, wagons, flying airships and more. We host Tea Party ‘socials’ where the community comes together and we go into the Midway, almost like a role-playing game. (The ‘HOME GAME’) We go on storytelling adventures of discovery and inquiry, prompted by encounters with the MM attractions and characters. It’s a collaborative, ‘gameful’ style of group storytelling. For example, something like “Fear” might come up in an adventure and we know that it’s time to bring out ‘Mr.Nobody’, a gleeful skeleton figure who eats fear. So the goal in that moment is to name and release the fear to Mr.Nobody, so it’s a bit like a shamanic story telling game. It’s all about identifying the scripts inside us that rule our actions on the ‘mythic stage’ of our lives.

“What’s ruling us, what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from sharing the magic within us, but feel scared to give it a name or form?”

Scott is a true believer and he’s up to something much larger than entertainment. About the Mystical Midway’s immersive environment he continued, “There’s almost no separation between participant, audience, spectator, performers. It really is immersive social theater. People can jump in with whatever they’re comfortable with. The first time they come, they kind of sit on the periphery, and say, ok I kind of see what this is about. Next time they come and they have a persona and they’re offering their gifts. Maybe I’ll do readings, or I’m more of a clowny person, or I have fairy wings and horns or whatever. You know what I mean?”

Our nice waiter brought us some bread and butter and as Scott and I conversed, I began to realize that there is a deeper level to this sort of play and creative culture. He’s not just creating an immersive experience that will no doubt delight participants on the playa this year.  I took in this phenomenon of a man across the table from me, wearing a black and white striped hat, spectacles and who sported a well groomed handlebar mustache. We discussed the language of creative culture, how he is producing events, creative community and Improv Theater  and I realized I was in the presence of a visionary. We discussed what a crazy journey these last 25 years have been for him and before that, his childhood of “hippie parents, raised in communes, in boats and vans. My mom was a psychic channel and I was raised around all these different intentional communities. So as a kid I got to see all these intentional ways of coming together so I was primed my whole life for alternate ways of living.” He then brought up his interest in magic and alchemy.

It was then that he leaned in, suddenly somewhat serious, and as he spoke he brought his visage forward and upward and I could see his brown eyes and that slyly mustachioed mouth as he flashed an upward smile and I thought — he’s up to something. Oh he’s up to something.

Barron Scott“I see society as a sculpture; it’s created intentionally by people. And a lot of people don’t see that our society has been crafted by capitalists and industrialists and consumerists towards people like you. You NEED THINGS. Medicine men knew this. Like, oh I’ve got something you need. This is a shiny thing and it’s awesome if you have this thing. You need these sneakers to be more desirable. You need this makeup or you need this clothing, you know what I mean right? And these are scripts that are running in society and so many people think, oh that’s the way it is, that’s the way life is.

“Burning Man is a place where people can look at the scripts and be like, wait a minute, does that serve me? Does this way of being serve me? Does the way of connecting and relating to other people, does this actually have value to me? So I want to create the permissions and give people the tools to examine, do these scripts serve them anymore.

“That’s why we embrace the term SOCIAL THEATER. You know because the Midway is a place of heightened social interaction, where everything is a mirror. Every character on the Midway is a mirror, a card, the story cards of the Midway that everything is based on, that I’ve been developing, I’m taking all my observations of creative culture they’re all in the story cards. Everything’s a mirror, hey take a look at this. What has value to you what are you pulling yourself to?

“How does insight serve you? Are you just a mental, intellectual person or do you have insight and intuition, so everything is inquiry. Hey what do you think about this, what do you think about this, no truths, just inquiry. Just questions. It’s all questions.

“It’s a crazy experiment. And I need a Christmas miracle to pull this off.”

The Mystical Midway, Carnival of Mythic Possibility has an ongoing IndieGOGO campaign to get them to Burning Man.

Go there. Contribute and read on.

Our sangria arrived, we toasted a cheers and I took a plunge into the fascinating world of Barron Scott LevKoff also known as “The Professor”.

(more…)

BRC Fire Department Says: Don’t Be Like These Bozos

by Penny Stone

(Photo by aip2000)

(Photo by aip2000)

The list of things you can do at Burning Man is as long as your imagination — it’s an experience of a lifetime. And nothing sucks more than having your Burn cut short.

I’m Penny Stone, Fire Chief of your Burning Man Volunteer Fire Department. We are 100 firefighters strong, from all over the world, and probably one of the most eclectic fire departments you’ll ever hopefully never have to call. While we specialize in fire, we also have rescue and hazmat teams.

I’ve got some tips to keep you safe and keep your Burn rolling. Here goes…

Baffling Your Generator

I was riding through the Black Rock City streets last year when I saw smoke billowing out of the back of a pickup truck. Turns out a participant had wrapped his generator (in the truck bed) with a foam mattress to decrease the noise — and then he put a plastic dog kennel over it to hold everything in place.

I dragged the smoking mess onto the playa and extinguished it. The owner came out of his tent, smiled and said “I was just trying to make it less noisy.”

There are plenty of ways to baffle your generator safely, like this for example.

Make sure generators have proper clearance from flammable objects (ahem, including foam mattresses).

Overfilling Your RV’s Propane Tanks

Let’s say you rent an RV. The RV propane tank you filled in a cooler place is now at a higher altitude and temperature, and that propane you’re smelling is it off-gassing. You know what propane smells like? You’ll want to in case it happens to you.

Tell the person filling your propane tank that you’re going to Burning Man (or at least “the desert”). A gas leak detector would be a good idea, too.

Electrical Sanity in Your RV

True story: In 2012, Black Rock Volunteer Fire Department responded to an RV that these guys had bought, the electrical system for which wasn’t designed for the demand they put on it. The electrical lines under the floorboards overheated and started a fire that engulfed the RV. Fortunately, everyone got out in time.

Make sure a qualified electrician and mechanic inspects your RV before purchasing. AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A WORKING FIRE EXTINGUISHER OR TWO!!!

Fire in Your Camp

fireexBurn barrels and flame effects are wonderful to chill around at night. But remember they need adequate clearance, and they must always be attended! It only takes a stray spark to set your neighborhood on fire, quickly.

Designate someone as the Pulse of Fire in your camp. Pay attention to wind speed, wind direction and the height of your flame, and make sure you don’t overload your burn barrel (it happens a lot).

AND MAKE SURE THERE IS A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IN A VISIBLE AND ACCESSIBLE PLACE AND ALL YOUR CAMPMATES KNOW WHERE IT IS. A 4×4” post painted red and placed in a five gallon bucket with sand or cement makes a great place to mount an extinguisher.

Questions? We’re Here to Help!

If you have questions about how to set up a fire plan for your camp or village please feel free to contact us at fuel here: fuel (at) burningman.org. We can help with questions on fire safety, fuel storage and dispensing, fires in camp and flame effects. We’re here to make your burn FABULOUS. Besides, WE BURN MORE THAN YOU.

Download a handy, printable fuel safety document (PDF – 3MB)

Announcing DJ Lineups in Black Rock City

Kalliope (Photo by Guillermo Velez)

Kalliope (Photo by Guillermo Velez)

You’ve probably seen a stirring recently about the issue of Theme Camps and Mutant Vehicles announcing their DJ lineups in advance of the event. After some internal discussions and reviewing our past communications on this subject, we sent the following email to the mailing lists for Theme Camp and Mutant Vehicle organizers:

Dear artists, organizers and leaders who make Black Rock City what it is,

We’re writing to you with a request. We want you to refrain from pre-announcing and promoting your on-playa DJ lineups, a practice that many sound camps already employ. If you absolutely must announce your lineups ahead of time, we ask that you wait until the week before the event. Here’s why:

As you may be aware, the beloved Mayan Warrior Mutant Vehicle crew recently announced their DJ lineup, much like it was the lineup for an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival all its own. (They have since taken the lineup down from their website, which we appreciate.) We want to share with you this comment a Burner posted in response to the announcement at Resident Advisor:

Hey, I really love Burning Man, and I really love music at Burning Man, and as a long-time Burner, I love the artistry behind your car, the sound system, and as always, the people you bring on your car to play.

But releasing a lineup like this, over a month in advance, flies right in the face of the rules and is pretty disrespectful in general. We want to avoid turning Burning Man into an EDM festival, with people hunting for lineups and timeslots. Burning Man is not an EDM festival, or even a music festival. It’s something else, undefineable.

Even to someone who loves EDM enough to comment on an EDM news site, the practice of posting on-playa DJ lineups causes an upsetting sensation that there’s un-Burning Man-like activity going on. We couldn’t agree more — in fact, for many years, we’ve discretely requested that camps keep their line-ups a surprise. So yes, we feel that sensation, and we bet some of you do, too.

These kinds of promotions create notoriety in a community that doesn’t necessarily share our principles, and specifically commodifies and commercializes artistic experiences. Promotion beyond Black Rock City gets especially uncomfortable when on-playa camps, Mutant Vehicles and events are connected to off-playa commercial enterprises.

Promoting lineups to a worldwide audience is not the same thing as listing an act or an event within the confines of Black Rock City, in resources like the online Playa Events Calendar or the printed WhatWhereWhen guide distributed to participants when they arrive. Those are for reaching people who are already going to be on the playa to let them know what’s going on. They are not intended to build a brand on the merits of an appearance at Burning Man. It’s simply unnecessary to promote beyond ticketed Burners for an experience you’re giving to Black Rock City.

Burning Man is an experiment in temporary community, not a traditional festival like the others. So when our participants post splashy DJ lineups, EDM sites and forums talk about us as though we are, spreading that message far and wide. It can also add to an already painful ticket scarcity issue — we don’t want to artificially drive up demand for tickets that aren’t available, and the attraction of big-name DJs can also drive up the price of after-market tickets.

Burning Man doesn’t have “headliners”. We pride ourselves on that. Burners don’t follow anyone else to Black Rock City, they go for themselves. Please understand, we don’t have anything against EDM, an art form whose vibrant community has made great contributions to Burning Man for many years. But we welcome members of the EDM community to come to Burning Man for a different experience than they’re used to: to fully participate in an experiment in a temporary community.

So, while we used to ask this on the downlow, we’ve seen enough instances in the last couple years that we feel the need to formally ask you not to announce your lineups. If you are dead-set on it, OK, but please wait until a week prior to the event before you do so. However, as surprise is great fun, and playa rumors help make things more exciting, we’d suggest that not announcing your lineup at all would be ideal. We’re asking you to listen to this request, think about it, and do what’s right for Burning Man culture. Thank you.

Burning Book Club – Introduction: We’ll run out of money before we run out of art

(This post is the second in a new book club, and inspired by reading the introduction of Scott Timberg’s Book-Burning-225x300“Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class.” Read all the book club entries)

If there is a crisis in the arts, why do we care?

We live in unsettled times – climate change is throwing the whole planet into environmental chaos; there is a constant buzz of military action in a “war on terror” that shows no sign of ending and theoretically never could; global hotspots between major powers like the U.S., China, and Russia, threaten to erupt; antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are becoming an increasingly common fact of life; government power, especially for surveillance, is running unchecked …

When we say “it’s a problem that artists can’t make a living,” this is the competition. This, and the fact that as a result of automation and corporate policies there may soon simply not be enough jobs to go around for anyone.

So a guy can’t make a living painting paintings? So a woman can’t make a living sculpting sculptures? So I can’t make a living writing little stories? So what? What’s at stake?

It’s not like we’re going to run out of paintings or sculptures or stories. If anything, digital images and 3d printing and the internet make all these things easier to come by than ever.

Scott Timberg opens his book “Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class” by making a case that art itself is in danger.

“If we’re not careful, culture work will become a luxury, like a vacation home,” Timberg writes in his introduction. “The price we ultimately pay is in the decline of art itself, diminishing understanding of ourselves, one another, and the eternal human spirit.”

As an artist, I would very much like to think Timberg is right – and that the world will not go on turning in some vital way without me and the work I do. As a human being, however, I think Timberg is very cogent in his analysis of the problem we’re facing, but very wrong in his analysis of what’s at stake.

Art is not in any danger. And I think Burning Man, as an arts and cultural institution, inadvertently demonstrates why. (more…)

Bacon Now!

by RockAtman

Bacon Man. (Photo by Amy)
Bacon Man. (Photo by Amy)

This is barely a story; it’s way too short and without a plot. But I swear to all the Playa Gods, this is exactly how it happened.

We were tearing down the French Quarter, moving tons of stuff, large beams by the hundreds and heavy cast iron railings. I felt like I had just exhausted my very last bit of energy and would collapse right away if I didn’t immediately get some replenishment.

Crossing paths with a campmate, I shouted “I need bacon NOW!” And just as I say the last word, “NOW”, another campmate, Jen, shows up, turning around the corner about 15 feet away. She comes straight towards us with a large aluminum tray in her arms full of freshly made bacon, shouting “Bacon anyone? Bacon? Bacon?”

Will You Be a Part of This Year’s Temple?

templetop

The race to build the Temple of Promise is coming down to the wire, and it needs more funds to bring this ambitious project to life. The Temple is the spiritual core of Black Rock City, and by helping create it, you can touch the heart of everyone there. Please donate now. If you do, you’ll feel the pride of being part of one of our culture’s best stories.

This story has been told before, but a culture’s best stories should be told over and over again. Here’s one version:

There once were some artists who had lost a friend. Out of their pain came a beautiful idea that never existed before. The artists lived in a city in the desert that only existed for one week a year. The beautiful idea was a temple on the very edge of the city, where people could go if the city center got to be too much for them. So they built it. And the people came to the temple when the city got to be too much for them, and they smiled, and they cried, and they left prayers and messages and offerings, and at the end of the week, the temple burned up in a great fire as the rest of the city disappeared.

The next year, when the city came back into being, the temple was still there. It was a different temple, but it was the same Temple.

Fifteen years later, the Temple still appears in Black Rock City every year. But it doesn’t appear suddenly, by magic. It takes months and months of work. It takes hundreds of hands and thousands of dollars and tons and tons of materials. The people of the city have to come together, pool their resources, volunteer their time, and spread the word far and wide in order for the Temple to be there when everyone gets to Black Rock City.

Are you going to Black Rock City? Have you ever been? Do you want to go someday? Then the Temple needs your help.

temple1This year’s Temple crew has raised a bunch of their funds and put in tons of work. They still need more. After their first successful campaign, they’ve launched another crowd-funding campaign to show us how far they’ve come and enlist our help in carrying them the rest of the way. Soon, they’re going to ask again for more help with a precious, specific piece they’re building, and all who have ever fallen in love with a Temple will want to be a part of it.

Please donate to the new Temple of Promise Indiegogo campaign today, and stay tuned for more ways you can help.

Those who are interested in giving large, tax-deductible gifts to the Temple of Promise can do so on templeofpromise.org.

Salvaged Steel at a Steal (as in, free!)

Hey Bay Area artists: so, why aren’t you building that giant steel sculpture you’re always talking about? Oh, because you need steel? Well, as you know, the original Bay Bridge is being dismantled, and the Oakland Museum of California has launched a program to pair artists with its steel.

Applications for use of the reclaimed steel are due October 1, 2015, and priority will be given to public art or civic projects, and to projects that reference the original bridge’s historical importance.

Visit the Oakland Museum of California’s website for more information on how to apply. Good luck!