I'll try to be brief, but I can't make any promises.
Yikes - it has been a minute since I wrote a blog post. I started one in San Francisco one morning when I woke up super early because I was stressing and worrying about planning for Burning Man. I didn’t finish that one, however, because I wisely just got on with planning for Burning Man, instead. So since the last post, I have gotten up to so much mischief, it’s going to be tricky to capture it all here. But I’ll try.
Bye bye Chicago: see you later Beyonce.
Wrapping up my time improvising in Chicago was bittersweet. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to my classmates. They were some excellent people and we’d really bonded closely over the 5 week course. Our final show was pretty good - I was absolutely terrified to perform on the hallowed stages of the iO theatre, where I had seen without doubt some of the most skilled improvisers in the world perform during my time in Chicago. It wasn’t the best show that I had ever done, but it was solid, and I felt like we’d done something as a group that we could be proud of. One particular highlight of the show was that my best friend Anna came all the way to Chicago to see me. Well, me and someone else…
For my birthday Anna, who is arguably the best person on the planet, got me the gift to end all gifts, one present to rule them all. She purchased me two (2) tickets to see Beyonce Knowles and her husband perform live in concert in Chicago. And then she flew all the way around the world to come see her with me. It was an insane thing to do, and the most fun thing ever. The concert was a complete spectacular in every sense of the word. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic (I do, actually), but it really felt like we were watching history being made. She didn’t play a lot of her classic bangers, not a single Destiny’s Child hit was trotted out, but her newer music as well as the visual story told through costume, film and set design was politically charged, artistically daring and completely captivating. Also, her husband is a very good performer. Getting in to Soldier Field, the gigantic concert venue was extremely stressful and crappy. For security reasons, everyone had to check their bags into a cloak room. Unsurprisingly, we were running late and missed the opening acts DJ Khalid (shame for gag factor) and Chance the Rapper (shame for actual good music factor). We knew that we were down to the minutes before Bey and Jay were going to be hitting the stage, and we encountered a queue of probably 200 people still waiting to check their bags. Absolutely not. So we took our necessities out of our bags, and just… chucked them in a bush. We were fully expecting them to not be there when we left the gig, but Beyonce was smiling on us that night, and we got everything back, and it wasn’t even soaked in piss, which was lucky as I witnessed several people urinating in the bushes in that vicinity. Mainly I was pleased not to have lost my collection of 21 lipsticks that I carry with me at all times. Not sure travel insurance would have covered that loss.
In short - I endorse having a friend who will buy you tickets to Beyonce and fly thousands of miles to join you.
New York City: it’s a hell of a town.
So I have been to New York many times. I think probably about 8 or 9. I don’t mean to be controversial (or do I?) but I think I’m done with New York. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of cool shit happening there. But this trip, I found it kind of overwhelming and stressful, and not in a romantic way. In a way where I was just like, “Ugh, enough”. Having said that, we did have some pretty cool experiences that I hadn’t had before. We saw Dear Evan Hansen, a *hot* Broadway show. I loved the show, although it’s not your traditional glitzy broadway musical, with almost no set or choreography, which was kind of a shame. But the music is still stuck in my head, and it was a touching story with great performances.. I was also amazed to learn that it is the first broadway show in many, many years to be an original story and songbook. Almost everything else is a reprisal, adaptation or historical retrospective.
We also saw Sleep No More, an immersive physical theatre piece based on Macbeth that was honestly one of the most remarkable theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. The show completely takes over an old hotel in Chelsea, and you walk through, wherever you want by yourself, wearing a mask, and you can interact with every piece of the set, and the show is happening around you at all times. It was insane.
This time in New York it felt more like a theme park to me than ever before. It’s so big and busy and insane, there is no reprieve from the hectic vibe, which I know is what some people love the most about it. It used to be what I loved about it too, and I think it’s safe to assume that it’s me who has changed, not the Big Apple. The best part of being there for me was seeing all of the old pals that have moved there to live their dreams. When we started out on this big adventure, I had this gung- ho attitude of “I am going out there to have my big trip, not to see people I already know. I have spent so much time and money over the years seeing people, this trip is about us!”. But you know what you really miss when you’re on the road travelling for months at a time, only meeting new people and having amazing new experiences? Your friends. I miss familiar faces, comfortable company and that amazing rapport that you can only have with people you’ve known for a lifetime. Cue all the wonderful people I know in New York. It really was a delight to catch up with some of my oldest and dearest friends, and it served to re-energise me in a way I didn’t even know I needed so badly.
In short - old friends are the best. Hold them close to your heart.
West Coast: Best coast
Next up came our venture over to San Francisco to prepare for Burning Man. Again, you may think I’m being controversial here (shocking), but I don’t like San Francisco. It was my second time visiting, and granted, both times I have been less tourist-ing, more frantically preparing for Burning Man, but it’s just not for me. There are amazing things about it - the Mexican food is incredible, there are very, very cool and interesting people that I am very privileged to know there, but I have never seen a place in the developed world where the disparity of wealth is so blatant and in your face. And it feels like you are constantly ankle deep in dog shit. San Francisco is dirty as hell. Some of the richest people in the world live in the Bay Area, and there are more homeless an drug addicted people living on the streets than anywhere I’ve ever visited in the Western world, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. Also it’s cold, even in the Summer. And accomodation is outrageously expensive. Anyway, this is boring. I don’t like San Francisco, sorry ‘bout it.
In short - watch your step in San Francisco.
Burning Man: Fuck your burn
There is a typical Burner trope of saying that going to Burning Man is ‘going home’. I know it sounds cliche and dumb, as so much Burning Man stuff does, but as we rolled onto the Playa for my second time, it really felt that way. This year at Burning Man was very different to my experience last year, but I can safely say that it is still one of the most fulfilling, transformative and fun experiences of my life. The journey from San Francisco to the playa is not easy, it’s several hours drive, and then the line to get in can take a long time even under perfect conditions, but this year was particularly bad. There were crazy dust storms that lead to the closing of the gates, and we spent 10 hours waiting in line. Ten hours. We could have pretty much flown back to Sydney in the time it took us to get in. It was insane. But even in line, people are already getting into the spirit of things. Our first encounter in line was a Kiwi guy popping by our van to offer us swigs of Whiskey and explaining that we was in a polyamorous relationship with a woman and several men, that he felt heterosexual, but homoromantic, and was finally coming to accept that he was comfortable being in love with men, even though he wasn’t sexually attracted to them. He was so warm and open and keen to share his whiskey and his experiences, which is just 100% text-book Burning Man, and I was thrilled to be back.
Our set up this year was very different to last year. First of all it was just Neil and I, where as the year before we’d had a crew of about 10 people. We also were just setting up camp in a transit van, where as last year we had a styrofoam yurt. Neil had meticulously planned out a structure to offer us shelter and shade off the side of the yurt using tent poles and tarps, mainly factoring in how last year every day had been over 45 degrees, so we needed cool and shade. Unfortunately (or fortunately) heat wasn’t something we really needed to worry about this year - it was wind. It became very obvious, very quickly that the plan we had for our campsite was not going to work. We needed much stronger equipment to ensure we were going to be sheltered in a safe way. Neil hadn’t slept properly in almost 48 hours because he’d been doing the driving on the way in, and not being able to execute his plan almost broke him. But luckily we were in the best place on Earth to get by with a little help from our neighbours. A couple of veteran Burners camped right next to us gave us a few tips, and a few hefty playa staples - extremely strong tent pegs - and we adapted our set up and finally got something up that was going to serve as our home for the next week. To be honest, the wind and dust got me down really quickly. I thought, what if it’s like this the whole week? I’m not going to have a good time, I’m not going to be able to enjoy myself, I’m just going to stress out that our camp is going to be in a thousand pieces when we come back… what the hell are we doing here, we aren’t prepared. But the next day the weather had cleared up, it was a bloody pearler, and I felt instantly better. The playa provides! (Another cheesy, but ultimately true, burnerism).
I could wax lyrical about what a brilliant time I had, but I will just list a few *G-Rated* highlights that I had over the week:
Seeing the Black Rock City Philharmonic Orchestra play at sunset at the Reverbia stage, with the finale being the conductor throwing about 2000 kazoos into the audience and everyone playing along to “Ode to Joy” as the sun went down over the mountains.
Taking an improv workshop in the desert. It wasn’t the best improv class I’ve ever done, but I went by myself, and I felt really challenged, and there were some people who came along who didn’t even know what improv was just to do something new and exciting and it felt really cool and silly and I had so much fun.
The Drunken Disney Singalong. This was one of my highlights of last year, and I knew I wanted to go again. It’s just a bunch of people drinking heavily, and singing Disney songs with so much passion and enthusuasm… I can’t explain the revelry I feel in that setting. It’s magic. I have no shame in telling you that I cried again this year, several times.
This year is wasn’t as hot as last year, so we took the opportunity to do more day time playa rides. The playa is a vast expanse of desert that hosts hundreds of art installations, sculptures and ‘mutant vehicles’. Seeing it at night is an absolute spectacle, but there are certain things that need to be viewed in the day to get the full effect. It really is an incredible sight to behold. People think of Burning Man as a debaucherous drug fest (and it is that in a lot of ways), but I think more importantly it is a fascinating display of human ingenuity and artistic expression on a scale that I have never ever seen anywhere else.
In short - If you have ever considered going to this wonderful event, go. It’s my favourite thing.
Los Angeles: City of Angels.
After Burning Man, I was wrecked. It is the most fun you can have in a week, but it really takes it out of you. You experience an afterglow, but many people feel the need to ‘decompress’ after the burn. We spent two nights in Reno, which does not deserve it’s own section in this blog post, and then a couple more nights with some wonderful friends in Oakland, which was great, and very much needed. But we headed south to LA pretty quickly, and I realised I was done charging around. I was so happy to just relax and unwind, do very little and just enjoy the company of our wonderful friends Dave and Mon. This is actually an affect that I still feel at the moment - something about slowing down, relaxing and not feeling compelled to charge around like a bat out of hell all the time has stuck with me since we left the Playa, and I’m not mad about it. I really like LA, and after spending so much time in the USA this year, I have realised that this is probably the only city there that I’d be keen to live in. There is so much more than the film industry there. There is art and food and theatre and so many inspiring people. I’m sure there is plenty of glitz and glamour I’d have a love/hate relationship with, but this city has way more to it than most people give it credit for, I think.
In short - I have always had a love affair with the US, but after over 2 months this time round, I was well and truly ready to leave.
Ok. I think that’s enough of a dissertation on my travels since my last post. I’m spent. I’ll write again soon about our adventures in the Middle East. What was more fuelled by conflict? The lunch we had with our Israeli guide and our Palestinian driver, or spending 12 days with my family? Tune in next time to find out.