On the Edge of Utopia: performance and ritual at Burning Man


On the Edge of Utopia, Rachel Bowditch— performer, theatre director, scholar, and Burning Man participant—explores the spectrum of performance and ritual practices within Black Rock City from the everyday to spectacle, the profane to the sublime. Bowditch argues that Burning Man can be understood as a contemporary galaxy of happenings, a site for rehearsals of utopia, and a secular pilgrimage. As Burning Man continues to grow, it is creating new paradigms for performance, installation art, community, and invented rituals in the twenty-first century. 

Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2010. 

PODCAST: "Becoming Legendary: #32 with Rachel Bowditch/Burning Man


Amazon Reviews

"Rich in detail & scholarly in depth; possibly the best book on Burning Man." Michael Mikel aka Danger Ranger, Founding Burning Man Board Member, Amazon Review

"Bowditch's exhaustive book approaches the Burning Man event from an artistic performance perspective and is, to my knowledge, the only book to do so. Burning Man's intended ritual nature is thoroughly explored as are the logistics involved in producing performance in often extreme conditions with volunteer help. It's especially of interest to those curious about the event's history and the major players in its development." --Steve Mobia, Burning Man Cultural Influencer/Lamplighter, Amazon Review

"I found this work completely insightful in understanding Burning Man and it's Black Rock City. Highly recommendable to anyone who is interested in this spectacular ephemeral city!"--Amazon Review

Theatre Journal

 “Bowditch’s well-researched and provocative book […] is the first book to explore the event through a performance studies lens. […] In it, performance studies scholars will find a useful, in-depth resource documenting the multiplicity of performances involved in the event, with individual case studies for studying ritual, spectacle, carnival, and performativity.”  

 Heather Ramey. “On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man,” Theatre Journal. December 2011. Pp. 667-668.  


 “There are surprisingly few academic books written about Burning Man, considering the cultural significance and scope of the event—a fact that Rachel Bowditch acknowledges in her preface. Bowditch adds considerably to this conversation by offering a detailed study that draws equally from field notes, interviews, history, political theory, aesthetics, and performance theory, arguably affording the most holistic and detailed portrait of Burning Man in print. While other books have particular disciplinary bents or are penned by devotees, this book offers a comprehensive analysis of Burning Man’s social, historical, and political roles in our culture and society.”

Neşe Lisa Şenol. “On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man,” TDR: The Drama Review 44:4 (T212) Winter 2011. Pp.167-168. 

Cultural Studies Review

“Bowditch offers a thorough overview of Burning Man from the first event held in 1986 on the beach in San Francisco, through to the present and the fifty thousand people who annually descend on the Nevada desert site. With its originary stories strongly influenced by the actions and memories of a number of key figures, negotiating the complex politics, egos, and recollections of this is not an easy task but Bowditch acknowledges the difficulties and appears to negotiate them with dexterity.”

Susan Luckman. “Festive Emplacements: Burning Man and Goa Trance,” Cultural Studies Review. Volume 17 Number 1 March 2011. Pp.362-71.

Performing utopia

Performing Utopia, a volume of nine essays edited by Rachel Bowditch and Pegge Vissicaro, expand Jill Dolan's theory of the utopia performative to encompass performance in public life—from diasporic hip-hop battles, Chilean military parades, commemorative processions, Blackfoot powwows, and post-Katrina Mardi Gras to the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, Festas Juninas in Brazil, the Renaissance Fairs in Arizona, and neoburlesque competitions. How do these performances rehearse and enact visions of a utopic world? What can the lens of utopia illuminate about the potential of performing bodies to transform communities, identities, values, and beliefs across time? 

Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2018.


physical dramaturgy: perspectives from the field

Physical Dramaturgy: Perspectives from the Field, an anthology edited by Rachel Bowditch, Jeff Casazza, and Annette Thornton, looks at new ways of approaching a wealth of physical worlds, from the works of Shakespeare and other period playwrights to the processes of Jerzy Grotowski, Lloyd Williamson, Richard Schechner, and Michael Chekhov, and devising original works in a variety of contexts from Pig Iron, Dell’Arte International, Bill Bowers and mime, Tectonic Theater Project, and Liz Lerman’s Dance Exchange, giving dramaturgs, actors, and directors new ways of looking at existing methods and providing examples of how to translate, combine, and adapt them into new explorations for training, rehearsal, or research. 

Routledge, 2018. 



The Performance Workshop and Rasaboxes

I am currently working on a fourth book about performance studies founder Richard Schechner’s Performance Workshop and Rasaboxes performer training that I am co-authoring with Paula Murray Cole and Michele Minnick under contract with Routledge (expected publication 2020). This will be the first book about Richard Schechner’s forty-year pedagogical process and will be a significant contribution to theatre training and acting pedagogy.  


Peer reviewed book chapters



“Commemorating the Ancestors: Performances of Death at the Tucson All Souls’ Procession.” Focus on World Festivals. Edited by Chris Newbold, Goodfellows Books, Oxford, 2016, pp. 28-289. 


“Republic of the Imagination: Burning Man and the Culture of Radical Self-Expression.” Focus on World Festivals. Edited by Chris Newbold, Goodfellows Books, Oxford, 2016, pp.64-76.


“Elemental Performance: Realms of Fire at Burning Man.” Playa Dust: A Burning Man Comprehensive History, edited by Samantha Krukowski. Immedium, 2014, pp.160-173. 


 “The Inferno: Burning Man and the Tipping Point.” Festive Devils of the Americas, edited by Milla Riggio, Paolo Vignolo, and Angela Marino Segura, Seagull Books (University of Chicago Press), 2015, pp. 299-316.

peer reviewed articles



 “Phoenix Rising: The Culture of Fire at the Burning Man Festival,” Performance Research, Routledge, an imprint of Taylor and Francis, Vol. 17, No. 6, ‘On Fire’ (Jan 2013), pp. 113-122.


"The Somatic City: Rehearsing Utopia at the Burning Man Festival." in Cross-Cultural Poetics: Streetnotes, University of California (Special issue on Urban Culture and Aesthetics guest edited by Blagovesta Momchedjikova). Spring 2010.


"Temple of Tears: Revitalizing and Inventing Ritual in the Burning Man Community in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.” Journal of Religion and Theatre, December 2007. 


“Dancing With Fire: The Ultimate Effigy.” Puppetry International Magazine[iv] Issue 22, November 2007, pp. 16-19.


Performance Research is a quarterly journal interdisciplinary in vision and international in scope, its emphasis is on research in contemporary performance arts within changing cultures. Performance Research was founded in 1996 by Richard Gough and Judie Christie and is published online and hardcopy by Routledge, an imprint of Taylor and Francis. 

XCP: Streetnotes, a bi-annual peer-reviewed online publication affiliated with the print journal XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics edited by David Michalski and published by eScholarship, University of California. All work submitted to Streetnotes undergoes double-blind review by at least two experts chosen by the Editorial Board for their knowledge and experience. 

Journal of Religion and Theatre is a peer-reviewed online academic journal. It is abstracted and indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.

Puppetry International Magazine founded in 1994 is the leading peer-reviewed journal in the field of puppetry. 




 “Phoenix Rising: Reflecting on The Conference of the Birds,” Eucumenica Journal of Theatre and Performance, Special Edition, “Muslim Worlds,” edited by Hesam Sharifian and Claire Pamment. 


“Republic of the Imagination: Burning Man and the Culture of Radical Self-Expression,”  Electric Sky catalogue for ROMER + ROMER, printed in English and translated into German. 


“Four Principles about Site-Specific Theatre: A Conversation on Architecture, Bodies, and Presence,” co-authored by Rachel Bowditch, Daniel Bird Tobin, Chelsea Pace, and Marc Devine. Theatre Topics, Volume 28, Number 1, March 2018, pp. E-5-E-19 (Article). John Hopkins University Press. muse.jhu.edu/article/690019/pdf


 “Utopia/Dystopia,” Eucumenica Journal of Theatre and Performance, “Journal Anthology of Critical Terms,” Fall 2015, pp.125-132.


“The Creative Conundrum: How the Arts Fit into a Research University.” American Society for Theatre Research/ASTR-Online. August 2011. 


“Performance Studies International 13: Happening/Performance/Event.” Everywhere and All At Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07.[ii] Edited by RoseLee Goldberg. Zurich/New York: JRP/Ringier, 2009. Pp348-349.


Performa founded by RoseLee Goldberg in 2004 is a leading organization dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of twentieth-century art and to encouraging new directions in performance for the twenty-first century. The three-week biennial held in New York City showcases new work by more than 100 contemporary artists, in an innovative program breaking down the boundaries between visual art, music, dance, poetry, fashion, architecture, and graphic design. Presented in collaboration with a consortium of more than 50 arts institutions and over 50 curators including the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) and PS1. 

CITATIONS in books



Moises Kaufman and Barbara Pitt-McAdams

Moment Work: Tectonic Theatre Project's Process of Devising Theatre. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Quoted on inside of book cover. 


Dan Fine and Alex Oliszewski. 

Digital Media, Projection Design, and Technology for Theatre. Routledge, 2018. 

Images of my directing work on House of the Spirits featured on pp.44-45, 59, 76, 78, and 196.. 


Scott Shattuck. 

Director’s Vision. Second Edition. Waveland Press, 2015.

Three images of my directing work featured; 1) pp. 118, Machinal by Sophie Treadwell; 2) pp. 121, Transfix in Sedona by Vessel; and 3) (full-color/full page center insert) Aurora in the Petrified Forest by Vessel, 2015. 


That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz. 

Photo of Rachel Bowditch on the cover.


Phillip B. Zarrilli. 

“Altered Consciousness in Performance: West and East,” Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Volume One: History, Culture, and the Humanities. Ed. Etzel Cardena, Michael Winkelman. Praeger, 2011. 

Citation about On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man on page 302.


LInda Essig and Jennifer Setlow. 

Lighting and the Design Idea. Third Edition. Wadsworth, 2011. 

Image of Anon(ymous) directed by Rachel Bowditch (page 141).


Schechner, Richard. 

Performance Studies: An Introduction. Routledge, 2006. Image of my portrayal of Yono in Yokastas at La Mama, 2005. 

citations of creative work in peer reviewed journals



 “Page to Stage: The Sun Serpent,” TYA Today, Spring 2013. Pp.28-29. 2009 Bedard, Roger. “The Cultural Construction of Theatre for Children and Young Audiences: A Captive Eddy of Recursive Harmonies,” Theater Festivals: Celebration of Cultural Diversity, The Assitej Book 2008-2009. ASSITEJ International. Image of Anon(ymous) by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Rachel Bowditch (page 293).


Calzadilla, Fernando. Review of “YokastaS by Saviana Stanescu. Directed by Richard Schechner.” Theatre Journal, Vol.55, No. 4, Theatre and Activism (Dec., 2003), pp.710-713. 

Book reviews



“Media and Ritual: Death, Community, and Everyday Life,” by Johanna Sumiala. Journal of Media and Religion. Taylor and Francis, 2016.


“Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski.” by Phillip B. Zarrilli. The Drama Review (TDR) 55:1 (T209) Spring 2011, pp. 159-161.