“How to be hip, stay safe on the playa”

Just as wizards mingle among non-magical Muggles in the Harry Potter series, so too do Burning Man festival devotees coexist alongside non-burners for 51 weeks of the year.

But in the months leading up to the weeklong self-expression bacchanal in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, burners begin to prepare for the annual ritual.

Hence, the second annual Prepare for the Playa – a series of gatherings where participants can preview art installations, learn simple survival tactics at Playa U how-to clinics, see the latest in fantastical fashions in a runway show, buy gadgets and gear and listen to live entertainment.

The first of the three events will be today, when several hundred burners are expected to descend on Cafe Cocomo for a Burning Man redux – except that you can shower afterward without rigging up a pump and evaporation pond.

The informational and commercial aspects set the three Prepare for the Playa events apart from most other pre- and post-burner happenings.

“In the past, it was difficult to find everything you needed to get in order to prepare for your journey – funky clothes and costumes, lights, goggles, dust masks, solar powered items, etc.,” said Nikki Doran, the event organizer and a five-year festival veteran. “These are the perfect events for the seasoned burner to fill in gaps in their playa wardrobe or preparation list, or for the newbie or curious person that wants to learn a bit more about what to expect or how to prepare.”

Craig McCollough, a freelance Web designer and creator of the clothing company Strange Attractors, said the costume aspect is one of the “primary means of participation in Burning Man.”

“It’s an expression of me, but also a great connector,” said McCullough, one of the several dozen “burner-preneurs” who will sell their creations at the event. “That simple icebreaker has led to my meeting many new people and several long-lasting friendships.”

McCollough, who uses the playa name Sensoryoverload, sells fun and quirky accessories and attire with his partner, Melinda Sanders (playa name: Fire Cracker). Some of their offerings include LED collars, electroluminescent wire collars, armbands and hot pants, which will be for sale during the event. Other funky playa fashions featured today include fuzzy bear hoods, sparkly bra tops, leather accessories, faux fur coats and tribal and belly dancing gear.

Playa U how-to clinics
Since the festival runs for a week, burners must also consider practical issues like showers and evaporation ponds, bicycle prep and maintenance, lighting for themselves and their camps, recycling and proper disposal of waste. Other clinics include how to make a goddess turban to protect hair from the elements and a lighting demo on how to use EL and LED lights.

Volunteers with the Burning Man Earth Guardians group, who work with the Bureau of Land Management throughout the year on logistical and planning issues, will conduct a clinic focusing on reducing, reusing and recycling in an effort to “leave no trace behind.”

Burners must also learn the basics of protecting themselves from the elements. Lighting is always an issue because there is no electrical grid, and is particularly important because this year’s Burning Man coincides with a new moon, which means the nights will be devoid of moonlight. Burners will have to come up with creative ways to bring their own lighting so they can navigate – for decorative and  safety reasons as well as camping convenience.

Art benefit
This year, each Prepare for the Playa event will have an artist beneficiary, and a percentage of the proceeds will be given to that artist to help bring his or her art to Burning Man.

“This is a way for the Prepare for the Playa community to give back and support the artists that create the art we go out to see each year in the desert,” Doran said.

At 6:30 this evening, Peter Hudson is scheduled to present his newest creation, “Tantalus,” which his Web site describes as a 24-foot diameter stroboscopic zoetrope resembling an Uncle Sam top hat from which “20 agonizing bodies will forever be grasping for the golden watch” around the brim. Last year, Hudson’s “Homouroboros,” another large-scale zoetrope with swinging monkeys and a snake, garnered much attention and has since been featured elsewhere, including a recent exhibition at the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum.

“It’s about sharing my own sense of awe and wonderment,” Hudson said of his desire to create his interactive pieces. “It’s a wonderful moment of sheer childlike delight.”

He said he hopes that “Tantalus” (named for Zeus’ son who was punished by not being to eat and drink), like all his work, will help show that Burning Man is much more than a drawn-out party for bourgeois bohemians.

“Tantalus is about the broken promise of the American dream. It’s about working harder and harder, and getting less and less,” said Hudson, a Bay Area native. “It’s a great metaphor for the dwindling fruits of our labor.”

The scene
What isn’t dwindling is interest in and attendance at Burning Man, which began at Baker Beach in 1986 with 20 participants. This year’s event is expected to draw 50,000, which essentially converts a small remote desert area into Nevada’s third largest city.

“I love the community,” said Megan Tierney, who is running a Playa U clinic on showers and, who is known as Teal at Burning Man. “It’s the only place where I truly feel I can be myself. It’s like no place else in the world.”

And the passions last far beyond the seven-day gathering in the desert.

“Burning Man is a year-round lifestyle of self-reliance, generosity and creativity,” said Judi Morales Gibson, who has been bringing her 7-year-old son, Dexter, since he was 16 months old and whose company, Cinder Garden Designs, sells bedsheet bloomers, short burlesque knickers, utility kilts and faux-fur and fleece animal pants with tails. “So going to Black Rock is anything but a vacation; it’s a long, hard journey. When Dexter asks, ‘How many days until Burning Man?’ it’s all worth the effort.”

Prepare for the Playa
This year’s Burning Man festival will take place in Black Rock Desert from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1. The first of the Prepare for the Playa events takes place today from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Cafe Cocomo, 650 Indiana St., San Francisco. Admission is free before 5 p.m., vendors will be there until 7 p.m. Live music, performances and playa DJs will be showcased throughout the event. The Zoopy Show, a group of giant monster musicians that is “touring the country dumbfounding and amazing all humans within visual and audio range,” will perform at 10 p.m. Additional Prepare for the Playa events are scheduled for July 20 and Aug. 17. For more information, go to www.preparefortheplaya.com.


Published on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle’s Style Section on Sunday, June 22, 2008. Here’s the link to the original article on SFGate.com.

© Gabriana Marks 2012.

Tags: style, beauty, San Francisco, Burning Man fashion, custom, playa fashion, prepare for the playa