For some people, "radical self-expression" might mean swapping out the Dockers for something less khaki. For others, it means driving to the middle of a Nevada desert with 50 gallons of water and a bus full of weird costumes — including the requisite birthday suit — for the annual, weeklong Burning Man festival.
In 1986, a pair of friends on a San Francisco beach spontaneously set on fire a thrown-together sculpture of a wooden man as a sort of effigy. That grew into an annual event that moved to the Black Rock desert and now draws 70,000 people, each paying $390 a ticket. Freak flags fly from the last Monday in August to the first Monday in September, with performances, nudity, and a spirit of self-reliance and sharing — all in a setting that is part Mad Max, part hippie love fest, and part radical art experience. The climax happens Saturday night, when a 105-foot-tall wooden "man" is set alight in a massive bonfire. This year, Burning Man runs from August 30 to September 7.
But organizers know that not every devotee can make the trek out west every year, and so a tradition has evolved for leaders to host satellite "orphan burns" around the country in solidarity with the main festival.
Luckily, "burners" stuck in Fort Lauderdale can turn to Makers Square — the "maker space" (tool shop, warehouse, social club, and bar) that was opened in the Middle River Terrace neighborhood in early 2014 by a group of like-minded souls united by their love for Burning Man and its ideals of a freewheeling, zany, friendly, and creative community. The space is hosting an all-night event called Burn the Orphans on Saturday.
Industrial artist Johnie Waddell, a co-owner of Makers Square, says the local burn will have plenty of wacky fun and costumes. "I'll probably change seven times that night," he mused. "I have a jungle safari costume and plan to wear a full tuxedo. And we might do something like a flamingo race, where you build silly art, carry it, and run. A lot of the stuff that we do here is either half-jokes or full jokes."
Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, a steady lineup of DJs will crank out tunes, from bluegrass and folk to nu disco, funk, and house. Symbiotic Simians will perform a set at sunrise; the event is scheduled to rattle on until 8 a.m. Sunday. The Simians "do more of an instrumental loop and build songs that are really neat and unique," Waddell says.
Throughout the night, performance troupe Enlightened Flow Entertainment will mingle with the crowd doing fire-dancing, fire-breathing and -eating, and a fire Hula-Hoop show that will be elemental and raw, according to troupe leader Maiah "Duck" Duckstein.
In addition, four "theme camps" are organized. One is planning a talent show and interactive games, with prizes involved. At "burns," gifting is one of ten organizing principles, so community members bring things to give away. "I'll take my shirt and give it to them, if someone says they like my shirt," Waddell says.
Roughly 14 artists will have their works on display, and live painting will be done. A "cooperative art build" will be onsite, with attendees invited to add their own piece of art to a larger piece that will be burned in effigy just like the "The Man" in Nevada, except Maker's Square has a six-by-six-foot fire pit that can be suspended off the ground. Tools and materials will be provided. "You can write little notes and memorials," Waddell explains. "Let's say you had a grandmother pass away and you wanted to immortalize her into the fire when it burns. Burns give you those moments of letting go." As the fire rages, on monitors, they'll air a simulcast of the Burning Man climax out in Nevada.
"We're trained in proper fire technique and will have to give the fire department a heads-up, obviously," quips Waddell.
Burn the Orphans
Saturday, September 5, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at Makers Square, 1142 NE Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Visit makerssquare.com, or call 954-361-4114. Admission is $10; free for members.