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Burning Man Now Has Its Own Musical, and It’s Fantastic

A Googler's joke about Burning Man has escalated into a full-blown musical. Here's the first number.


Head over to YouTube right now for the best damn five minutes of your week: the opening number of Burning Man: The Musical. This one has it all: art cars, water-delivery drones, surprisingly stylish goggles, and the saga of one poor Silicon Valley schmuck’s overwhelming desire to experience the enchanting, slightly manic, questionably sanitized wonderland that is the playa, if he can just meet his Dude Bro boss’s impossible deadline in time. Like any catchy musical number, it's full of pep and earnestness and sparkly outfits. It’s probably the only Burning Man-related content that could conceivably be blurbed as “good clean fun!”

Though it may have aims at Broadway, Burning Man: The Musical will exist entirely as an Internet phenomenon for the time being, with new songs and set pieces released on YouTube until the entire thing is complete. If all goes well, it will evolve into its final form as an actual, live stage show next spring, with fan feedback from what creators are calling the show’s online “beta test” already incorporated in.

You might assume that this is the work of a veteran Burner. Maybe even one of those uber–desert hermits who spends the other 51 weeks of the year braiding his beard and lining up extra-strength LSD tabs in anticipation. But in fact, writer Matt Werner is a Burning Man virgin, about to plunge into the belly of the beast for the very first time next week. Werner, a 31-year-old Oakland native, works at Google as a tech writer, crashes at a startup house in Mountain View, and used to stage manage at the American Conservatory Theater. His sister and friends are longtime Burners, but he never felt the call himself until now. “The stars have finally aligned,” he says.

Instead, this project came out of, of all things, a satirical newspaper Werner published in 2013 that included a Hunter Thompson–esque “Burning Man Dispatch”: “I awoke in a yurt built of mirrors, next to a genital portrait studio. I was dressed in furry boots with my leather chaps beside the bed. Rising, I found two raver girls with hair like naked Troll dolls at the foot of the bed. I do not have any idea of how we got here.”

On a whim, he entered the piece of faux-gonzo journalism as a monologue at a writer’s workshop in New York last year, where he says people went nuts for it. “They kept asking me, ‘What was that from?’ And I said, ‘It’s from Burning Man: The Musical.’ I just made it up on the spot.” When pressed for details he responded that the show was "very early in development." A few seconds in, as it turned out.

But thanks to an enthusiastically received Kickstarter, it’s all happening. The opening number, starring actor Travis Kent, was shot over the course of three days with a combined cast and crew of 50. Many of the props and costumes were donated by Burning Man veterans, and the statue is an exact replica of the Man burned in 2009.

Werner and crew know already where the story is going to go, and its take on the sometimes uncomfortable symbiosis between the playa and the Valley, particularly when the richest of the tech elite deign to descend on the desert. But of course, the real proving ground will be when he gets a taste of the real thing for the first time. “I felt I could write a funny, five-minute opener without having been there. But for the rest, everyone tells me it’s something you have to experience to understand.”  


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