Freestyle: Burning Man plans
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
The sun beat down. The ground turned up thorns. Stinging Portuguese man-of-war threatened on the beach nearby. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day in Hawaii, but not without its dangers.
PRE-COMPRESSION: HATS & TAILS
A Burning Man-themed party
As I learned along with about a dozen volunteers at a training session on the beach in Waimanalo on Saturday, Burning Man also offers many ways to encounter harm.
But while 60,000-plus adventurers coalesce in the Nevada desert each year to burn a 40-odd-foot-tall wooden structure to ashes, relatively few are seriously hurt. Even fewer require intervention.
That’s because organizers have a credo of “radical self-reliance,” and also because hundreds of “rangers” trained in nationwide sessions like the one in Waimanalo keep a watchful eye on the gathering, day and night.
Last weekend’s session was one in a series of events leading up to Burning Man, taking place this year from Aug. 25 through Sept. 1 in the Black Rock desert. Another last-chance opportunity is Pre-Compression later this month.
Along the way, the Waimanalo training session — also a campout and next-day barbecue for interested newbies — was a good introduction to the motivating principles and realities of Burning Man.
WE WERE THERE to train as regional rangers for Hawaii events held by the Ka Pilina Interactive Arts Society, Burning Man’s regional nonprofit group. Each spring, Ka Pilina hosts a campout called Collidiscope on Oahu, and the group especially wants to have people prepped as helpers for this.
Collidiscope operates on the same principles as the Nevada gathering: to maximize freedom and creativity while cultivating generosity and community. That means it’s okay to play loud music and dance till dawn, to spin fire, to wear crazy clothes and to say and think what you like — within the outer boundaries of physical and legal necessity.
Burning Man itself and its related events encourage “radical self-expression” through art, performance and flamboyance. One of the unofficial slogans is “You’re free to get hurt.”
Rangers walk the line between the two poles of freedom and danger, largely avoiding intervention but providing assistance and mediation when necessary.
SITTING IN a circle under an ironwood tree, volunteers listened carefully as Burning Man veterans spelled out strategies to respectfully help people avoid harm.
Ka Pilina board member Nathan Contreras, aka Illumi-Nate, said rangers have a close-up view of all aspects of a Burning Man gathering.
“You’ll start learning the culture, from the arty to the obscure,” he said.
All kinds of people participate in Burning Man, from eco-survivalists and artists to tech millionaires and college-age partiers. While its remote location and $380 ticket price tends to weed out the most casual participants, some people do drink too much, get dehydrated and disoriented, get in fights or fall over a tent stake. That’s where the rangers come in.
“We don’t interfere where there is no immediate danger,” said Ka Pilina director Mac Kaul, aka Fire Diva.
Then she put it another way: “Are they breathing? Then you’re good.”
Trainees laughed, but Kaul was serious. She punctuated the lesson with a slogan: “First, do nothing.”
While there have been no serious problems at Hawaii events, trainers said two issues of concern are natural hazards and gate-crashers. In both cases, communication is key, they said.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. She attended Burning Man in 2012 and 2013. Reach her via email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.