So, I'm a pretty hep cat and I keep my ear to the ground, if you know
what I mean. Like, I'm *with it*. So I heard quite a little while ago
about this crazy idea that someone had for this year's Burning Man.
See, the idea is that it's a LIVE staging of "Jesus Christ,
Superstar," the 1971 Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice revisionist rock
opera about the main Man himself.
Of course, I instantly thought it was a LIE. First off, it'd be REAL
REAL HARD to pull off a big Broadway-style show like "JCS*" in the
middle of the Black Rock Desert. Second, 99.8% of ideas that you hear
for Burning Man are jettisoned before anyone even starts thinking
about them real closely. Burning Man stimulates the imagination, but
it also gets people mouthing off about stuff that you know and I know
they're never gonna do.
But mainly I just thought it didn't fit in. Rock opera is pretty goopy
to begin with, but "JCS*" is just the KING. I had the album when I was
earnest and 11 years old and I listened to it over and over and
eventually I just got one of those sick headaches from listening to
too much early 70s progressive rock. Do you ever get those? JCS* is
the worst for that.
The other thing is that it's one of those plays that high school drama
kids just LOVE. Like they sing songs from the score in the back of the
bus on the way to Drama Summer School and stuff. Those kids who just
have personality coming out their PORES.
And, hey, isn't Burning Man supposed to be all full of them there
TECHNO-PAGANS, anyways? What would a bunch of goddess-worshipping HTML
jockeys want with a radical retelling of the greatest story ever told?
Even if it did have a heavy bass line?
So, I had pretty much written the whole thing off. And then I was
talking over burritos to my friend Ms. Jewelz, who works for Burning
Man, about this Jesus-Schmeezus thing, when she just BELTS out:
JEE-sus Christ! JEE-sus Christ!
WHO are you WHAT have you SAC-rificed?
Holy guacamole! It turns out that there really IS a Jesus Christ
Superstar going to happen at Burning Man, and Jewelzy is in the cast!
Then I got mail on the LaughingSquid list about it, so now I know it
has to be true!
It turns out that the whole thing is NOT going to be a rock opera at
all. They're ADAPTING the story of "JCS*" to create a new play, "DJ
Christ Superstar." And get this: it's not a ROCK opera, it's a RAVE
opera! With crazy TECHNO and samples and break beats and EVERYTHING!
So NOW I'm interested all of a sudden! I put out some feelers and got
a hold of Paul Godwin, one of the three main movers behind "DJ Christ
Superstar." He's a composer and general theatrical d00d of great
skill, and the musical director for the show. He said he'd do an
interview, along with the other two producers: Tony Parisi, who's the
producer; and Mark Pesce, the director. (Those last two names SHOULD
sound familiar: they're the inventors of VRML).
So I whipped up a bunch of questions and here we go.
PDJ: So, ROCK opera's considered by a lot of people to be the nadir of
human creative output, and by others to be the decadent self-serious
tip of the wave that signalled the crashing demise of "classic"
rock. Like, it's not an accident that so many rock operas are about
narcissistic megalomaniacs. Anyways, what made you think of doing a
[No answer. Oops.]
PDJ: Is it a tribute to rave music and culture?
PG: not a tribute per se. the treatment offers up jesus as a cultish dj figure
in late 1990's. so necessarily, his disciples are ravers, the high priests
are men-in-black record executives and so on. the real tribute is in the
PDJ: If it's a tribute, does that mean you think that r.m. & c. is
something of the past?
PG: maybe in way this is true. i'm sure it peaked a few years ago,
but it really has not infiltrated the mainstream in any kind of
complete fashion the way, say, rock music did. whether it will
remains to be seen, but it certainly is a ripe terrain for juxtaposing
this type of story onto.
PDJ: Who are you folks? What's your background in performance? Are you
ravers who want to do a show, or drama geeks who want to have a rave?
PG: speaking of the producers of the show including the designers, most of us
are not theatre professionals, though it seems that many of us have had
some background in theatre. i was a child actor, did musical theatre all
through secondary schools and studied theatre at northwestern university.
last year i was hired by berkeley rep as a composer but this was my first
re-entry into theatre since the early 80's when i was producing performance
art shows in boston.
PG: mostly as a group, we've been involved in high-techno-pagan culture. the
other two producers mark pesce and tony parisi co-wrote VRML, the 3D
language for the web.
PG: i guess if you throw a stone in the bay area you hit a high-tech worker,
hell, half the cast and crew work at ILM or Apple or some internet startup.
PDJ: Why Jesus? AGAIN?
MP: If the theme of burning man this year is time, then we have to take a very
close look at what our "time" is. We keep time religiously, literally, as
it's all based on the number of years since the birth of Christ. Funny, how
in this ultra-rational culture there's this irrational timebase at its core.
PDJ: Are you doing a close mapping to the plot of "Jesus Christ,
Superstar," or are you using it as a launch-off point?
PG: we're in love with the lloyd-weber version, even in its sometimes '70s
tackiness. lots of us are the age that this is one of the first albums we
ever had. but the grooves in the music are sometimes really muddy and
tired sounding so it was very refreshing to be able to use
electronic-oriented techno grooves in these sections. i've borrowed
liberally from the likes of roni size, crystal method, orbital, underworld,
dr. octagon and others.
PG: the lyrics are largely unchanged, the melodies as well. sometimes the
chords are different because the remix groove has a different harmonic
structure, but the songs will be very recognizable.
PDJ: What about the music? Is it going to be break beat sampling of
"Superstar," or the same music with different lyrics, or what?
PDJ: Is it all original? Is it all live? Who's DJing?
PG: half live band, half dj remixes which i've constructed ahead of time.
still, i'll be mixing in other elements constantly as well as playing the
sampler and keyboards. i'll be the main dj, before the show, one of our
other producers and sound gods VORDO will be spinning. after the show AJ
Peralta of the Green Galactic Crew will be on the decks.
PDJ: How big is the cast for DJCS?
TP: Twenty-five, not counting additional dancers from the Foundry,
belly dancers and any crowd extras we might recruit on the playa.
PDJ: Is there a lot of the other stuff we associate with rock opera, like
dancing and gigantic expensive sets?
TP: Some... we've got awesome costumes by our fashion director Marina
Berlin; multimedia/video projections by Clay Graham. We've rented
professional sound and lighting, but just the right amount to support
the experience we're going for, not at all excessive.
MP: This is a rave opera, rather than a rock opera; no expensive sets but some
fairly expensive looking visuals. Eye candy, and all the vibes associated
with a good rave. Dancing there is in abundance, and we're wanting the
crowd on the Playa to dance with us.
PDJ: When are you performing? Is the Burning Man performance going to be
the ONLY performance, or will you be doing a theatrical run
MP: We haven't given any thought to performances after Burning Man -
that's what we're doing, and we're doing just one performance. Like
the Man himself, it lasts for a short time and then is gone forever.
That's part of the beauty of the moment; we're working really hard for
just about 100 minutes of production. Once.
TP: This is a two-part answer: Part 1: there's a growing demand for us
to perform the show after the Burn. And we do find it tempting. Part
2: God I hope not! It's a ton of work! But we'll see...
PDJ: Performances at Burning Man tend to get dwarfed by the Big Shows (the
Opera and the Burn). Do you think there are any big difficulties in
doing a performance in Black Rock City?
MP: In many ways, DJCS is a reaction to the "Opera", which is
difficult to obscure and has a tradition of happening very deep into
the evening. We wanted something just as "big" - which it might be -
and more accessible, more about fun and play - without leaving behind
the myth and ritual.
MP: The biggest difficulty in Black Rock City is getting the attention
of the Playa-dwellers. We were asked by BM central to move our
performance to Thursday night because of this; originally we were
going to perform on Friday night but the Wheel of Time happens
concurrently and it was thought that we'd be better off if we went on
Thursday, uncontested by any other major event.
TP: I think DJCS will considered a Big Show for Thursday evening. It's
early in the event, there will already be 10,000 people there, and we
have beach front property on the Esplanada. I am not at all worried
that we'll get dwarfed.
PDJ: How has the support been from the Burning Man Project? Have you heard
TP: As a group, they have given us a ton of moral support. In
addition, several individuals involved in the BM organization have
given us invaluable logistical support; some of these are cast/crew
members of DJCS.
PDJ: The general tendency in recent years at Burning Man has been anti-rave
(e.g., no Rave Camp, restrictions on amplified music, etc.). Do you
see that changing?
PG: this year the eternal return project is planning something
masterful. to focus the energy of all the raves after the man burns.
this is long in coming as far as i'm concerned. the raves have been
fun, but often dissipating in energy, somehow separate from burning
man proper and we all know some of the problems of a few years ago.
but let's face it, electronic dance music works very very well on the
playa, so there is alot of crossover. i think raves are deeply
entrenched in the stuff of burning man now and they will be with us
for a really long time.
PDJ: What kind of audience participation do you want? Would you rather have
an audience that was dancing, or one that was watching?
MP: We want an audience who can participate in the passion in every
meaningful way; part of the conceit of "DJ Christ, Superstar!" is that
Jesus is the best DJ there ever has been, and spins at a series of
raves throughout the Opera. These events are structures so that the
crowd can get up and dance and enjoy the music.
MP: Similarly, during the flogging, we expect to have lots of S/M
volunteers flogging/being flogged, so Jesus doesn't get to have all
PDJ: When and where are you performing at Black Rock? Are you in a
particular theme camp?
TP: We're at 4:43 and Mercury (right next to the Gigsville village). We go on
at 8:30PM Thursday, September 2nd. We are closely tied to Spiral Oasis
theme camp; many of the DJCS cast and crew are long-time Spiral campers
from previous BM years.
PDJ: You're doing some early performances, too. What's up with that?
TP: We held a benefit performance this past weekend. We had several goals for
1. Raise cash to support the production
2. Give playa-goers a sneak-preview
3. Do some of the show for people who aren't coming to the man
4. Give the cast and crew much-need practice and confidence-building
PDJ:What else are you looking forward to at Burning Man?