A history of Alchemy
Okay, history time. I’m going to try really hard not to mess this up. If I do, please note that it was unintentional. I’m not trying to exclude anyone from Alchemy’s history or to leave out anything. The mind is fickle, and certainly some details will elude me now, seven or eight years after all this started.
Troy and I used to sit around, long before we were ever acquainted with burns, and we would create things. We sat in bars or cars and imagined neat things we could do: create our own restaurants, bars, neat art spaces, whatever. Most of those things we would discount, but occasionally, we would both latch on to something, and the next thing you know, we’d be naming it and he’d be creating a logo for it in his head. Troy was the part of the relationship that actually made things I would assume to be impossible happen. I was the naming person, and the support, most of the time.
Sometime prior to 2006, I picked up poi spinning at a festival that was absolutely nothing like a burn. At that time, I knew approximately two other poi spinners, only one of whom was a fire spinner, and the internet had most definitely not yet exploded with a plethora of spinners intent on videoing themselves for the benefit of others. Troy had immigrated to Atlanta by way of Colorado, then Asheville, and had known people who had gone to Burning Man. When he approached me about going to a thing called a “burn” in Asheville (that would be Transformus, year 2), I was uninterested. When he told me that there would be fire spinners, I immediately jumped on board. So we went to that first Transformus and it, as many of you say with regard to your first burn, “changed my life.”
All of a sudden, burns became everything about who we both were, and they proceeded to absolutely consume both of us until last year. We went to every burn we could get to, including Burning Man (2006). After Burning Man, we decided to have a baby – a baby burn and a baby girl child.
The baby burn was Troy’s idea entirely. There had been a burn like thing that had happened in Georgia a few years prior, called Ripe. From what I have heard, Charlie Smith (who is a long time burner and amazing artist in Atlanta) was involved in that, but the event had fizzled for whatever reason several years prior. At that time, we only knew a very, very few burners in Georgia.
There was one initial meeting at Tunna’s brother’s house I think (that’s funny to me now, given that Hogleg is now one of our Alchemy paramedics and is a good friend), and Troy passed around a notebook where anyone interested in making this thing happen wrote their name and email address. I know that the majority of the people there who said they were interested ended up not being in the end. However, some of those people ended up being the first team leads. I definitely do not recall who all was at that initial meeting, although I know Tunna and Chw were, and maybe Jonathan LaLiberty.
Troy’s idea was to rent out the drive in on Moreland for a full weekend. We were going to rent the entire thing, have everyone camp out there, and we were going to show burn-related movies on the giant screens. We were going to encourage theme camps. I know Troy talked to Danielle (the original Doom) Portheau (I apologize if I butchered your name, Danielle), who was THE Burning Man RC at the time, and they worked together on some ideas. I don’t remember why all that fell through in the end. I wasn’t really on board at that time. I went with him once to see the drive in and I could see some potential, but I wasn’t super impressed.
It was sometime in the spring of 2007 that we made our first trip up to Cherokee Farms. That was just Troy and me. I remember that very clearly because I was very, very pregnant at the time. The Earthskills group was there that weekend, and Smokey let us in to look around anyway. We parked our car in the pentagon field, and when we walked through the pentagon entrance onto the main field down near what eventually became Ragnarok, we saw a big hill to our left. I pointed to it and said, “That’s where we would put our effigy, so people could see it through out the event.” And then we proceeded to hike up the thing, me with my giant belly. As we looked down over the property, and then out on to those surrounding mountains, we both fell in love. It was the very first time that I actually believed this might happen. I told him right then, “If you do it here, I’m in.”
I don’t remember at what point we named the thing. I know it was before we got a lot of people involved. I came up with the name and the idea for the symbol. Troy made the symbol in my head match the one on the computer screen. For a write up of what the symbol means, see the Alchemy website. I will put a link here later, as my internet is funky at the moment.
To be clear, that first year, Troy was 100% the captain. In fact, he was the captain primarily until he resigned last year. Other people became increasingly more involved over time, and I am absolutely not trying to discount their involvement. But in that first year, Troy was definitely the driving force. We sat around together and mapped out what teams we thought we might need, and then we considered what friends we might be able to coerce into doing this brand new thing with us. We approached all those people and started having regular planning meetings. I remember one at our house on Eleanor Street. We had some at restaurants. Those turned into what are now known as team lead meetings.
I remember some of the people involved. Justin Majors, with his new and very young looking girlfriend Karissa – they ran the original Alchemy sound stage. We were concerned there wouldn’t be enough sound, so that year, we provided that space. Center Camp, to us, was never intended to be a big sound production the way it ended up being – that was supposed to be more modeled after Burning Man’s Center Camp, with open mics and speeches and workshops. Center Camp that year was Kitty, and she introduced us to the joys of karaoke at a burn. Back then, Center Camp was on the main stage in the main field. Joshua Bardwell was our original Ranger lead. Issa did site layout. Lee/Puzzle did Gate that year (with Robert’s help, I think?), with our lovely system of hanging a radio on gate when we closed it at night. We were precious. Adam did Lamplighters. Very few of you know him because he moved to Seattle during the planning stages of year 3. Keith Prossick built our first effigy, based off the symbol design. I have no idea who else was involved. I am pretty sure we had a Fire Safety team – that may have been Bubba John, or maybe not. I know we had First Aid, and he was involved with that for sure. I know Tunna was doing APW style stuff, although I cannot recall if we called it APW yet or not. I did have a team, which may or may not have been Fire Conclave. I know I limited my actual team involvement that year because I had a newborn.
Those first team lead meetings were some of the best days ever. Everyone had ideas and they all shared them. We were all friends, so people would feed off each other’s excitement and build on it. This is probably what I miss most. No one hated each other. The interpersonal drama hadn’t started. And we got together and made something amazing, which we all celebrated together after it was done.
So that is how it all started. After that first burn, we came back and made our first Board of Directors, as elected by a very small community, most of whom were new burners. The first BOD was me, Lovelace, Troy, Joshua Bardwell and Lee. From there, through our philosophical arguments, we came up with the in/out policy, the art fundraiser and various other ideas that became a long-lasting part of our community. I can give you the history behind all that too, if you want. But this has gone on long enough for now.
EDIT: Age has pointed out to me that Adam left in year 2, rather than year 3. Now that he has pointed that out, he is correct – the first time I remember meeting Age was while he, along with Lee Watts I think, and I, (and a few other people who I regrettably do not remember, but who were amazing) fueled lanterns together quickly so that we had lights on Thursday night that year. I loathe doing lamplighter stuff, so I very, very much appreciate lamplighters. I’m so thankful that someone enjoys that stuff!