"How to Survive the Apocalypse: a Burning Opera" is a musical-theatre freak-out inspired by the Burning Man festival. Scored by Mark Nichols with libretto by counterculture writer Erik Davis, the show combines rock opera, an electronic dance party, and a Dionysian revival show. The workshop version premiered in early 2009 at Stage Werx in San Francisco, and the Original Cast version ran in October the same year, with nine sold-out performances at Teatro ZinZanni’s exotic spiegeltent. The Bay Guardian’s theater critic Steve Jones wrote that the show is “both engrossing musical theater in its own right and a piece of art that truly captures the feel of the event and the Zeitgeist of its attendees.” Writing about a successful 2011 run of the show in Los Angeles, the LA Weekly’s Bill Raden described a “rousing, mythic rock pageant” whose “winning score works a Hair-era musical vocabulary of R&B and acid rock by way of Kurt Weill.”
An abridged version of the full show, the Original Cast CD of "How to Survive the Apocalypse" weaves together two stories (the full illustrated libretto is included in the booklet). One tells the tale of two friends who start burning a wooden man in the desert (after getting kicked off the beach). Over the years, their gathering grows into a huge festival, and forces a reckoning between the two men and their different views of underground culture. Meanwhile, we also follow the story of three festival newbies, each with their own hopes and fears, as they make their way through the erotic, psychological, and apocalyptic minefield of the event. The songs catalog the characters and experiences they encounter as they wander across the playa.
Like Burning Man itself, "How to Survive the Apocalypse" is a hydra-headed beast that emerged through the combined passion, dedication, and tomfoolery of many people. The show’s Big Bang occurred, appropriately, in a Porta-Potty line at Burning Man in 2006. Ron Meiners made the comment to a friend that only opera could capture the multidimensional experience of Burning Man. Singer Julie Lewis, the partner of composer Mark Nichols, overheard the remark and said “My boyfriend writes operas.” Meetings were arranged with Nichols, a longtime participant in the Seattle music scene who had already written a number of demented pieces of musical theatre for kids and adult. Meiners brought in lyricist Erik Davis, an author, journalist and California native who had been attending Burning Man since 1994, and had written one of the first national articles on the event. Davis in turn brought in Christopher Fulling, an early music tenor and director who had with Pepe Ozan’s on many of the latter's legendary ritual operas on the playa. With producer and creative advisor Dana Harrison in tow, the main team had been assembled and creative obsession began. Today the project continues to evolve, with future shows in the works. Just search on “Burning Opera” for more.
The Original Cast CD was recorded and produced shortly after the 2009 Original Cast run and features nearly all of the original band and cast members. As for the recording sessions themselves, a very good time was had by all.