AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

Unpacking “Working Title ____________________”

Words By The Tim Doyle
(edited) photos from Gita Claassen and Simon Max Bannister

part 1 – How Did This Happen?

The theme “Working Title” came from a series of discussions over a long period of time. The first time it was discussed was a few years ago, when it was decided that as a Regional Burn, we were perhaps too young, and perhaps that we weren’t in the position where we were needing to drive the communication that the burn was work. Nevertheless,  it was tabled for further discussion down the line. It was a risky idea, and it could have backfired in the early days of AfrikaBurn.  However this year’s process took us down some different roads, that eventually led us back to this concept.
We kicked off the theme process early after Play ended, opening our theme submissions to the community, and were remarkably taken with what was submitted. There were a host of new ideas, some that were just plain unsuitable, as well as some that had been previously discussed at length. All heartfelt. There were many to choose from, but not many that would be suitable or fitting.
The Theme Team 2018 were a mix of new and old faces, some having led the themeing process many years in a row, others joining in for the first time. It was a group of deep participants, anarchic volunteers, confused strangers, and founding members, each of whom brought their unique flavours and singular spiciness to the smorgasbord. It was a group of intelligent and deeply reputable community members that all had one thing in common – a desire to be a part of AfrikaBurn’s history, and to shape the coming year’s landscape (and maybe a good smattering of good old-style coercion).

Initially, each member of the Theme Team ruminated over the submissions individually, reading over the 71 submissions on our site, as well as a few late additions sent in via email. Again, these ranged from “Solarpunk” to “Ubunye Ekuhlaleni” to “What Comes Between?” – so vastly unique, but with many common threads.  Each of us had a few clear favourites, and a few notes on each to share at our first official meeting – which took place on a stormy evening, around a roaring fire.
The meeting was well attended. There was a palpable an air of importance spattered with pinches of whimsy, as we all bantered and tittered through the submissions, noting our feelings and discussing at length the philosophical challenges and rewards of each submission. As we progressed, we’d note additional theme ideas, as well as select paragraphs or snippets from the theme developments, driving the brainstorm into areas we didn’t think we’d be in, and back to areas we’d previously explored.
From this meeting, a range of common topics arose, including clusters like: “Work, Umsebenzi, and Mothership”, “Bridges, Portals, and What Comes Between”, “Energy, Imagination, Change, and Circle”, “Home, Habitat, Identity, and Ubuntu”, as well as “Colour, Kaleidoscope, Reflection, and Elements”. Each of these clusters speaking to one another, and merging together to form new ideas and directions.  

The days following the meeting, we all did a lot of thinking, and we tried to piece together what seemed like a puzzle – it was as though we’d been given puzzle pieces for 5 puzzles, and no clue as to the pictures they were supposed to make, or even if all the pieces were there. It was during this period that “Working Title” was born.
The year of Play was a challenging year, though every year has its own trials and tribulations. Play brought out the experiment, and the entertainment like never before. However there was also an element of frivolousness and some of the seriousness and responsibility this type of event needs was found to be lacking. To put it bluntly, some people felt there was too much “Play” (and not enough Red Bull). So in a very reactive and immediate knee-jerk reaction, I submitted the theme: “Work” with the following breakdown:

Nothing worth having comes easy.

Following on from the frippery of the 2017 theme, we invite everyone to join in the great work party that is our event every year. It takes shit-tonnes of effort to get there, to be there, and to provide awesome art, performance, and magic. None of what we do would be possible without hard work, so let’s all gather our energy, prepare our tools and get ready for a really fulfilling challenge.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle

Why not follow a flamboyant and free year with a challenge? We offer the chance to become your inner engineer, the best builder you can be, the most talented tailor you’ve ever known, or the most organised planner that ever planned. We’re looking forward, and fuelling a journey, ready to participate, and pining for passion.

And remember:

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Marc Anthony

It was surprisingly well received, and there were quite a few thumbs up for the idea, but it wasn’t exactly right. It was a bit authoritarian, and a little harsh – let alone it was incredibly reactive, and born from some misgivings about an “invent” that, overall, was a huge success. So it wasn’t right, but it was.
While we all mused over the submissions and feelings, I was combining it with various other themes, and concepts, and felt that they all fitted. Everything should be done, and all the themes are great (especially Imagination and Space Cadet Johnny Whitteridge). And one evening, while I did the dishes (ironically), musing over different ways that the word “Work” could be extrapolated upon, the idea that it could be a Working Title hit me.
It’s an experiment. It’s not an event. It’s a foundation. It’s not a disco. It ain’t no party. It’s a place where we all get together, bring our shit,  and see what happens. It’s one big-ass production that no one knows how it will turn out. Will we all get to do what we want? Will we get to see everything burn? Will everything be finished? Will there be a gorilla sanctuary that offers free candy-floss sculpting lessons? We don’t know. It’s all up in the air until we really get into the throes of it. Hell, we barely know what’s planned and succeeded until halfway through the week.
“Gosh, ‘Working Title’ is great.” I thought. And I penned out a simple half-paragraph email to the Theme Team, and suggested it. Luckily, it seemed I was on the right track. It encompassed the concept of ‘Work’, and it drove the meaning of the ‘Mothership’ concept home. It drove the imagination, and linked to every single submission in one way or another.
We met unofficially in The Bijou that following week, and we chatted about the favorite clusters once more. Turns out that the idea of a “Choose Your Own Theme” had been suggested many years prior to the ‘Working Title’ concept. It was an idea that had surfaced before, and something our community was possibly ready for. Between those that could, we decided to take two of the additional clusters/topics further, while I explored Working Title. We only had just over a week until The Decompression, and there wasn’t much time left.
The rest of the process was a series of emails, and suggestions while we each developed the theme areas we were most inspired by, but in the long run, the Working Title theme had been born. The idea of tying it to a “Choose Your Own Theme” concept was evident, and the theme development was really easy to write. It invited people to do their own anarchic thing, or to use the title itself. It covered all the other themes, and it allowed a new type of creativity. It kind of grew legs and began running immediately.
And here we are.

Look out for the next ‘unpacking of the theme’ blog article in about a month, get thinking about your theme and share it in the AfrikaBurn group, and go check out the 71 submissions from our community here.

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