Harley talks to Piss Clear
by Adrian Roberts
She is the goddess of theme camp placement, and she has the thankless job of juggling both precious playa real estate and precious egos. She is Harley DuBois, and she actually took time out of her busy schedule to answer Piss Clear's stupid questions.
Piss Clear: What is your official title in the Burning Man organization?
Harley: Director of Community Services and Playa Safety
PC: So you, like, place theme camps and stuff?
H: Among other things. I oversee the Greeters, Playa Info, Earth Guardians, Lamplighters, Recycling, Volunteers, Bus Depot, Gate/Perimeter, Rangers, ESD (Fire, Medical, Communications, Crisis Intervention), DMV... I think that covers it.
PC: How many theme camps are here this year?
H: Around 507.
PC: How long does it take to figure out where they all go?
H: We do two to three weeks of intensive mapping to place all the camps and Villages. A team of two puts in 8-15 hour days. We shut the door and lock it until we're done.
PC: Do you play favorites with certain camps?
H: No. I'm pretty much by the book.
PC: Come on, really?
H: Yeah, really. It's true that a tried-and-true camp that we know we can count on will be placed in places where we need a certain type of interactivity. But camps have cycles. They may be great one year, and fall apart the next. We try to stay on top of who is doing what, and what a camp's track record is.
Some camps write a great questionnaire and do nothing. Others write nothing and are fabulous. It's a job of guesstimation, intuition, history, and trust. Occasionally, there's a camp that gets the short end of the stick one year, and deserves a year of great placement to make things right - but it's rare.
If you screw up though, you start to be given less priority. If you do not get us what we request, when we request it, you may not get placed. If you do not tell us how you plan on being interactive, we may not place you. Interactivity is what a theme camp is supposed to be about. I try to keep it simple, so playing favorites is not necessary.
And if you talk to some long-standing camp that you think may be in question, nine times out of ten - if you can get them to admit it - you will find that I've told them that this is their last year getting the good spot, or that they've been pulled from that spot in the past to give someone else a chance at it. I even got First Camp (Larry Harvey's camp) to change sides of the Keyhole!
PC: Why do certain theme camps, especially ones that aren't even that good, get prime playa real estate every year, while other camps that are much better get relegated to the boonies?
H: Some people request the boonies! Some people underestimate themselves and forget to tell us how great they are. We try not to judge aesthetics but instead ask that a camp be "visually stimulating." That leaves the door wide open for how a camp presents itself.
We try to not penalize people just because they're not loaded with dough or exquisite creativity. Everyone deserves the same chance to shine at Burning Man. So what if it doesn't look quite as good as they hoped? As long as a group comes together to give something to the community, why not give them a shot with a great spot? We try to find the most interactive, beautiful, and "charged" camps for the Esplanade, but we're never sure what will actually come out of that rental truck until they show up.
For example, why does Piss Clear, year after year, get placement that many consider "great," when your effort at a visually stimulating camp is, to put it bluntly, on the poor side? Because your art is your newspaper, not how cool your RV looks. Duh.
PC: Do certain camps get "blacklisted" or put "on probation" if they piss you off or don't clean up properly?
H: Yup. sure enough. Clean-up is critical to the survival of our event! If they don't show up they're also on my shit list. If they act like primadonnas, I can't help but take note. And if they whine a lot, I seem to remember.
Listen, we do this as a service to everyone and it's a very tough job. We try our best to be fair and consistent, and nothing bothers me more than someone who can't uphold our community standards or who thinks they are above the guidelines.
PC: We understand that placing 500+ theme camps is a logistical nightmare, and that that many egos are bruised in the process. What's the biggest drama you've ever had with a camp being annoyed with their placement?
H: I was threatened to be sued this year! That was kinda ugly. Boy, if I went into all of the drama that unfolds around placement we would need an entire edition of your paper.
I have to say that one beautiful thing about Burning Man is that it is self-correcting. Camps that freak often end up thanking us. People that drop the ball for their camp and try and blame us for the subsequent crappy placement are often not the people that end up contacting us the following year. The placement team does a beautiful job of stroking egos and highlighting the positive aspects of a spot, and all this goes a long way toward making people give up their preconceived ideas of what they thought they wanted. In truth, the number of bruised egos at our event are remarkably few.
PC: Does brown-nosing, begging, schmoozing, bribery, flattery, and/or favors of any kind have anything to do with a theme camp getting placed in a prime spot?
H: Nope. I kinda resent it, actually.
PC: If not, then how the hell did a stupid, lame-ass excuse for a theme camp like Piss Clear end up with such prime playa real estate?
H: You write a great paper!