Afterburn Report – MPYRE Strikes Back (Now in 3-D!)

So very late…but close to our hearts nonetheless! We hope reading this gets you in the mood and stimulates your creative juices for True Grit!

2012 MPYRE Strikes Back (Now in 3-D!)
Afterburn Report
Saturday, August 4, 2012

Background
MPYRE Strikes Back is our summer Official Burning Man Beach Burn.  Due to lack of volunteership at the July 2011 event, we chose not to have the annual December burn, and it was definitely noticed. When people inquired why it did not happen, the response was honest.

In July of 2011, Jennie Kay, the Regional Contact had announced her retirement and the hunt for a replacement had begun.  With this transition time, there were not any regular community get-togethers, when the ticket melee erupted in January there was a great deal of negative energy swirling around the Burning Man community, and our Facebook page started getting hit with a lot of discontentment.

The positive to a lot of negative energy, is there is a lot of energy. In response to this,  MPYRE organized a community get-together to start planning some events, specifically a summer beach burn, to focus that energy towards something positive. It was a huge success, there was a great turnout and the movement began, with more energy than ever, towards the  6th MPYRE official Burning Man event.

As the planning moved forward, we had more energy and participation than ever before. It was a phenomenal process that really secured how important this event is to the community and those that are able to participate in the event, as an official volunteer, or as an attendee.

This event was the official start-up of our new Regional Contact, Alicia Tao. She became the point-contact for everyone, and it was awesome to watch her blossom in this role as well as provide so much for the event itself.  As the incoming Regional Contact, she has decided plan to follow a similar timeline that has been used in the past, for future MPYRE events, with two planning meetings and additional workdays for art projects and event staging so the day of set up flows smoothly. Local promotion through flyers, postcards, monterey-announce emails, Facebook posts will always be on the schedule, especially in the four-six weeks leading up to the event.

Attendance
Without having actual gates or boundaries, there is no way to really gauge exactly how many people actually attend. Guestimates for numbers that drifted in and out of the event range from 800-1000 people. It was, by far, our largest attended event.

The event was promoted at a local monthly marketplace two days earlier. With postcards and stickers to handout, MPYRE’s local profile increased for the beach burn. For future events, postcard distribution around town would be helpful, in addition to the press releases and announcements we posted at local media outlets and through online community lists.

Finances
We tried some new tactics on money this time around. We designed a poster-calendar that would be a giveaway for all pre-event donations. This was a wonderful success. We sold over forty of them.

Also, for the event, but not actually as part of the cost of the event, we printed stickers, a banner, and postcards to help “market” who we are and what we are doing. This was also a huge success, and the banner and stickers will be used for a long time. The postcards were a one-off.

That said, we actually made a profit! (or almost broke even if one counts the purchase of the banner/stickers) This event was our most successful, financially. And a special note, about 60 – 70% of the donations were received as people LEFT the event. That really makes a statement about what is going on.

Cash in advance: $417
Cash at event: $591
Total: $1,008
Insurance: $295
Permits: $509
Postcards: $66
Posters: $81
Total: $951

Stickers: $108
Banner: $32
Total material investment: $140

Volunteer Awesomeness!
At previous events, we have had issues with getting enough volunteers to make the event safe and successful. This year, we had a phenomenal outpouring of help and support from our entire community.  Leading up to the event, Alan & Ellen hosted two events at their studio to help build the effigy, and I think this kept people interested and with enough face-time together to create the connection for the follow-through of volunteership.

Planning and execution flowed smoothly, with all leads managing their projects well. Set up was complete by 12noon. As far as the organizers knew, there were no gaps in the volunteer schedules and we had more active and engaging things happening in the space.

This was an awesome win, and it seems the community interest is only growing as the event has closed and the year has moved on. The new Regional Contact, Alicia Tao, has been a total rockstar in continuing the MPYRE spirit and bringing fresh blood into the fold.

Greeter Booth Greatness (written by Firecracker!)
The Greeter Booth this event was a rousing success.  This year, more of an effort was put into the Greeter Booth visually.  There was a brand, spanking new banner that announced MPYRE’s presence, a community art project and a costume swap next to the Greeter station.  Because it was such a central hub, many people encircled the table and it became a central location for both participants and the general public to come for information.  For this event, we had books describing Burning Man, along with ways to get connected regionally which were well received by everyone and gave a context to True Grit.  The costume swap was wonderful for people who needed extra flare to their outfits, and personified the spirit of MPYRE.  One of my favorite memories was when a local homeless women, came to the costume area and tentatively asked if it was okay to take clothing.  We told her yes, and she was able to dress herself in scarves and dresses.  I later saw her dancing to the music and interacting with Burners in such a loving, welcoming way that it brought warmth to my heart.  That is the community that I love about Burning Man.  I have been helping greet at local events for years, and have to say that this was the best greeter booth yet and I have no recommendations for next time, except to keep it up.

Rangers Not-So-Awesomeness
The ranger situation is the one thing that continually threatens this event. We had one Ranger step up early in the game and take the lead ranger role. Having worked with the Ranger in the past, it was trusted that he would follow through and do what he said he would. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of communication between the organizers and this Ranger leading up to the event.  Jennie Kay received a phone call at 10p the night before the event from the other Ranger that was working the event stating they could not make it until 6p, rather than 4p as they previously thought. During the conversation, I mentioned it should not be a problem due to Ranger-X being there all day. The Ranger I was speaking to replied with the comment that Ranger-X was not going to be at the event.   This was confirmed with Ranger-X that night and the scramble began.

Thankfully, at the last minute, one other Ranger drove in from quite a distance to help out in the evening and there were no report-worthy incidents.

This said, the “system” or lack-of,  to have Rangers help out with events is really lacking. There is no way to reach out to the Ranger community for help with an event, if one is not already a Ranger. We have no Rangers in our local community, therefore, no access to asking Rangers for support or any way to communicate with them. There used to be a Facebook page to communicate, however, they booted everyone off that is not actually a Ranger.

Our community hosts the only official and on-going Burning Man event in the world that has no gates, boundaries or ticket-prices. We do this with very little financial resources, and we have a small community, however, we believe the circle is always open and we invite our greater community to participate in the culture of acceptance and expression. That said, our attendance-to-actual-“Burning-Man-Community” ratio is very skewed, and we don’t have the Ranger draw that we can, however we have the participation and interest of a much larger group since we open it up to everyone.

This is an ongoing problem and it threatens the safety and sustainability of the event if it is not resolved.

Fire (written by Celsius, our long-time Fire Wrangler)
Invites to fire spinners were mostly sent out via Facebook. Personal messages were sent to colleges that are professionals, instructors, or personally had connections to a large number of spinners in their own community. Spinners as far as the SF bay area were invited. The largest number of spinners that showed were from the Santa Cruz spinner/burner community.

Result:  A total of almost 20 fire spinners participated.

Feed back from the previous Monterey Burn about safety was taken in strong consideration when deciding how to set up the logistics of fire spinning for this event.

I felt that the set up of: DJ/sound system -> Dance floor -> Fire Performance Circle all in line with the direction of the PA system would work well in respecting the dance floor and dancers yet still having music loud enough to spin fire to. In the invites and messages sent out, i required the fire spinners participating to meet with me at 7:45pm for a safety meeting.

Discussed in the meeting was, location of the fuel station and safe spin off areas, maximum number of spinners in the performance circle at a time, respecting sobriety while playing with fire if possible. I decided that having a designated fire performance circle was the best way to have more control over safety of the audience and other non fire spinning participants. Fuel station was set up away from most of the non-spinner participants with a clear path to the performance circle, where the entrance point was used as a staging area for other fire performers to wait for an appropriate and safe time to enter. The main safety spotter was at this entrance point with at least one other spotter at the opposite side of the circle.

Result:  Awesome safety factor, no injuries.  Music at excellent decibel range for fire spinning. In love with the conclave ritual on the playa before the man burns, we decided to have a similar group burn revolving around the timing of the effigy burn. With Fertility theme in mind we thought it would be a wonderful idea to include the youngest of out participants, three of them ranging from 5-9 years old’ to light the effigies with torches. A moment to experience the effigy burn were given to the participants which was quite emotionally powerful. I then asked the participants to step back behind marked areas forming the performance circle for the fire spinners. The burn barrel for the effigies was included as part of the performance circle for the spinners to light their tools off of. We started with 4 spinners, and continued with at least 3-4 performers at a time for about 15mins, then solo and duet burns for the remainder of the night.

Result:  Epic talent dazzling the onlookers!

Media
The Monterey Herald showed up to do a piece, and they sent the same reporter that came to the event in July 2010, and falsely reported open marijuana use by Lead Ranger. When this reporter showed up, Jennie Kay gave him a quick “coach and counsel” about the previous event and how it would be appreciated if he would only report on what he saw instead of creating a story that is not there. He responded with “Don’t worry, I won’t report on the drug stuff.” Jennie Kay replied that he was welcome to report on anything he actually saw.  WIth that understanding he moved into the event, and proceeded to interview a number of people at the event, including the new Regional Contact, Alicia Tao. Alicia was fantastic with the press, although in the future she feels she would be more comfortable with a script prepared for answering general questions. Not a bad idea, although everyone agreed, she presented like a rock star because she is one!

Police
This was, by far, our most awesome year for police-interaction. We had two incidents where the police came out, and I am humbled to share them both.

Both of these were engaged by me (Jennie Kay) so I am going to write them from a first person perspective.

Incident One:
In the mid-afternoon two police cruisers pulled up and began talking to the organizers of the event.  I came over and spoke with the police, and asked what the problem was.  They indicated that they and a call complaining about public urination, however, assured me quickly that “We are sure it is just one of the homeless guys, so it doesn’t affect your event, don’t worry.”

I stopped them right there, and stated “This event is open to the entire community, and the homeless are part of this community, and part of this event. So, if there was an incident with one of the homeless guys then yes, it does concern me and this event.” It was a moment of drawing the line in the proverbial sand (but man, in hindsight, I wish I had actually drawn one in the sand, that would have been a pantpile full of awesome) and there was some tension between myself and the police, and some silence came between us.

During this time, the crowd had obviously made their attention focused toward the engagement between myself and the police, and a circle of distance had formed between the the crowd and ourselves. In this space, a man slowly walked forward while we were standing there, and broke through that imaginary barrier. He was clearly homeless, and had his head hung low.  He walked up to us, and quietly said “I’m the one that peed.”

The police took him aside and spoke with him. They obviously did not give him a ticket, and when they came back I asked “What was that?!” they replied “We have no idea what is going on, but…wow.”

This man, who had everything to lose, came forward to confess as the one who publicly urinated so as not to jeopardize the event, or my relationship with the police. This humbled me past any experience I have ever had with this community or event. That gentleman’s experience with the police is one of punishment, not support, and he thought I was getting punished for his behavior. He had the risk of going to jail, getting a ticket he could never afford to pay or any number of other social consequences in his own community by confessing, however, he boldly walked forward and gave everything he had…..for us, our community connection and this event.

Incident Two:
After the event was over, I was on the beach helping clean up the final drudge of the event. The police pulled up, per usual, to make sure everyone was gone and the beach was in a good state. The police officer came over to me, and I was prepared to let him know it was almost cleaned up, picking up the last pieces, yes, we were running late on our timeline, but…..and he just said

“Jen, I want to thank you. This is the only event that really includes everyone in this community. There isn’t anything we saw on this beach today that we wouldn’t want to see more of and as often as possible.”

This blew me away. Monterey is generally known as a very conservative community, and I was again humbled and leaving in tears as after all these years they “got it”. As I retire, and move on in my life, and I have no idea what the future holds with this community, or this event,  I am blessed and moved by these two gifts the day gave me personally, and to the statement of the event as we have developed it over the years. My heart was so huge for everything we have all done it just blew me away.

Theme Camps and Public Participation
There was one large theme camp in attendance, Temple of Ra. They set up a large 25′ square temple which provided a wonderful meet and chill space for the participants, as well as house a second sound system that was intended to provide chill music throughout the day.

A local second-hand store donated loads of costume clothes, and hosted a costume swap. They did not ever mention who they were, and there was no signage or anything….just a pile of GLORIOUS costumes and fun things to play with. Everyone brought more and more to add to it, and the costume swap was a mighty success. The homeless were dressing up, people walking by on the tourist path would drift in, dress up and start wandering into the event. This really brought people together and is a definite do-again.

Alicia, the new Regional Contact,  organized a stencil craft for all ages. Self explanatory, with a sample tshirt hanging at the station, it was popular, as was the other clay molding craft set up alongside. Perhaps one more kid-friendly craft would also increase the family friendly atmosphere.

The weather was fantastic, with normal Monterey Bay fluxes throughout the day.

In addition to all the activities, the Greeter Booth was very engaging and had a publicly-interactive art project up front as well, which really drew the public in. Also, having engaging and excited volunteers and greeters really made all the difference to the face-front of the event getting the public excited.

Leave No Trace
With several trash and recycle barrels set up all over the area, we had no issue with garbage. We have a fantastic relationship with the homeless community and they took all the recyclables off our hands.

Several years ago, when this event began, the aftermath of the event the next day was a pile of goods that didn’t get taken home, and a bag full of MOOP that would be picked up the next morning. Those were the days of 200-300 people coming to the event. This event was estimated to have had 800-1000 at the event, when the team showed up the next morning to clean up the beach, there was literally only enough to fill about a half a cup, and most of that was cigarette butts from the DJ booth.

On that Sunday morning, there was a group out on the beach feeding the homeless, and asked how can they get involved.

Sound
The sound was great, and handled by Lucho. He organized a great lineup and had two sound systems going, one chill system was in the Temple of RA, and was a great addition to the event. If Lucho will have us again, he is welcome anytime as the sound lead. He was fantastic. No issues.

Future
The next beach burn is slated for Dec 2013, getting back to True Grit roots!

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