Student Learns from ‘Burning Man’ Event

Morgan, who wants to be a professional clown, learned a lot at Burning Man

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The students are coming back to Idyllwild Arts now, full of stories about what they did during their summer break. However, one student’s story stood out from the rest.

“I learned how to eat fire this summer,” said Morgan.

It happened at “Burning Man,” a weeklong arts event held Aug. 20 to Sept. 6 in the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. The event has a strong emphasis on pyrotechnics. Attendees bring all of their own food, drink and lodging, and must leave nothing behind. It’s considered a “commerce free event,” meaning you can only buy coffee and ice there. Everything else must be traded. According to the Burning Man web site, the event attracted 48,000 people this year.

“There’s young people and old people, kids, naked people, some strung out on drugs or alcohol,” Morgan explained. “But if you don’t drink or do drugs, that’s OK with everyone too.”

It was the fourth Burning Man event that Morgan, now a senior, has attended. This time, he went with his father.

“It’s hard to explain what Burning Man really is all about,” Morgan said, after he arrived at Ontario Airport with dusty luggage. “You really just have to experience it firsthand.”

He said that the dirt will likely last about a week. It’s coated his skin. He also burned his tongue and the hair off of his arms.

“We also played fire baseball,” Morgan added. “The ball and bat are on fire. We don’t really keep score or anything, but it was fun trying to catch a burning fly ball.”

He said that eating fire wasn’t really hard, but afterwards, he couldn’t taste anything for about a week. His tongue blistered, he said, but didn’t have any lasting effects. When he stuck it out, it looked pink and normal.

“The trick of fire eating is to make sure that it stays mysterious,” Morgan said. “If everyone in the audience knows how to do it, then no one is going to pay to watch someone do it, right?”

He said that he also learned how to breathe out fire, much like a fire-breathing dragon.

“But you have to be careful not to breathe in because the fire could go down into your lungs, and you know what a disaster that would be,” Morgan said.

Morgan approached Burning Man like a student going for an internship. You see, Morgan wants to be a clown when he graduates from Idyllwild Arts. He hopes to go to a special clown school in Australia, that he visited before coming to Burning Man.

At Burning Man, he also learned to juggle with fire, something that he cannot practice on a heavily-wooded campus within a national forest.

“At school, they frown upon anything having to do with fire,” he said.

Morgan learned how to eat and breathe fire

He admitted that Burning Man, has an emphasis on fire, and attracts many pyromaniacs.

“One year, I saw them blow up a fuel tank, which sent a mushroom cloud into the air for about 200 feet,” he said. “Only people crazy about fire would want to do something like that.”

On the Saturday night before Labor Day this year, they burned a 100-foot image of a man that can be seen for miles. Check out some spectacular photos on the Burning Man web site,

For his senior year, Morgan took a big step and switched majors from theater to dance.

“I still love the theater,” Morgan said. “But, if I want to go to clown school, I have to work on my strength, and switching to dance was the way to do it. In theater, you just don’t move around a lot.”

Part of his college clown auditions include holding up other performers, much like cheerleaders do. He practiced a little bit of his strength training at Burning Man. At 6 foot something, he says he is not too tall to be a clown, but prefers being the one on the bottom holding everyone up.

Clowning comes naturally for Morgan who “grew up in the Renaiessance Fair.” ┬áHis father played a pirate, and his mother played a witch. In fact, he was named after the famous pirate, Captain Morgan, one of the most dangerous pirates who worked in the Spanish Main.

All in all, the Burning Man event turned out to be a good experience for this would-be professional clown. After college, he wants to join Circus de Soleil, or another one in Europe.

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