Leadership / 08.18.21
Burning Man’s Rebecca Throne Still Has a Burning Desire to Succeed
This story is brought to you by the INTIX Women in Entertainment Technology Program.
A lot of people in the ticketing business have cool jobs. I’d classify Rebecca Throne’s job as hot! She is the Head of Ticketing for Burning Man Project, which is best known for the annual, 80,000-member Burning Man event that usually takes place in the late summer over eight days in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
“We build the infrastructure for a temporary city, called Black Rock City, from scratch in the middle of a barren desert,” she says. “The infrastructure we provide allows participants to co-create a thriving, participatory, whimsical and art-filled metropolis. Aside from some obvious things, like no on-site vending or outside sponsorship, it’s pretty different from most large-scale events, as passive consumption isn’t really accepted. If you are there, you are a participant and expected to be engaged and contribute to the experience for everyone’s benefit.”
The lofty goal is to deliver what Throne calls “a catalytic experience,” one that helps people see themselves as capable contributors in ways they had not considered before. “It shakes up people’s ideas about themselves — can make them question their preconceived ideas about their own limitations,” she says. “There’s something powerful in the combination of removing people from their usual context and creature comforts, the vast alien landscape, the [do-it-yourself] nature of things, the expectation of engaged community, and rising to the occasion of shared struggle. Afterwards, people go back into the world energized and empowered and wanting to build upon what they have discovered and share it with others.”
And Throne emerges energized and empowered to do it all over again the following year. She started volunteering with Burning Man in 2001, after having been “suckered” into attending with friends two years earlier, she says. She started working with Burning Man full time in 2007.
“Burning Man has proven to be an ideal place to apply my equally creative and analytical mind,” she says. “At various points in my life I have worked in event production, creative direction, print production, brand-management, banking and jewelry making. Over the past decade, I’ve really enjoyed public speaking engagements, such as at INTIX, SXSW and the International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON). And, of course, being honored in 2019 at INTIX as a VenuesNow Ticketing Star was a major highlight!”
Of course, the pandemic has thrown a proverbial monkey wrench into what she and her staff do year in and year out. Last year’s Burning Man was canceled due to COVID-19, and so was this year’s in-person event. Throne and her colleagues have no affiliation with any unsanctioned, “renegade” events that fans organize on social media. But she is excited about the work various independent technologists have done to build a half-dozen, wholly unique, official virtual experiences that will welcome “virtual Burners” from all over the world Aug. 22 through Sept. 7.
“On a macro-level,” she says, “the biggest test of my leadership during the pandemic has been doing everything I can to ensure that the business decisions we’re making in these two anomalous years without Black Rock City remain in alignment with our values and are ultimately in service of supporting the health of the community and organization long term. On a micro-level, rallying for others even while I am confronting my own personal challenges from the past 18 months, doing everything I reasonably can to keep my extended seasonal team feeling connected and engaged, even though we can’t be at the event making magic happen together.”
As Head of Ticketing for Burning Man Project, perhaps her biggest responsibility is ensuring that the event’s ticketing strategies are designed to nourish the continued vibrancy and diversity of the Burning Man community while also providing the event’s nonprofit organization with the resources it needs to further its cultural mission. “That encompasses managing our public sales cycle, specialized and internal ticketing programs, vendor and contract management, all ticketing-related communications, support, producing our annual tickets, vehicle passes and wristbands, and leading the fantastic team who run our formidable on-site box office operations,” she says.
Facing such challenges, Throne has often relied on her industry experience and on bits of counsel and advice she has received over the years. She often remembers what she learned when she very new to the live events space. “In my early 20s,” she recalls, “I was working as an event producer for this hip consulting firm that designed bespoke workshops for some of the biggest global brands and focused on building systems that provoke creativity. As a young, competent Jill-of-all-trades, I got a little full of myself and wasn’t appreciating the breadth and depth of skills and insight others on the team were bringing to the table. A very gracious superior pulled me aside and gave me a talking to and helped me to see what a huge learning opportunity it was to get to work with people from such different backgrounds. I’ve always been so grateful for her candor and regarded her feedback as such a gift.”
She continues, “Ever since then, I have always made it a point to be curious and open-minded about what each person has to contribute. It’s not always obvious, but it is always worth the effort to explore. That early experience also cemented my own personal commitment to always providing honest and compassionate feedback.”
As a result of such a positive early experience with a mentor, Throne is eager to offer guidance to those just starting out in the ticketing/live event business today. When asked what counsel she would provide to young women professionals, in particular, she responds, “Be curious and learn everything you can along the way. Ticketing and live events are inherently interdisciplinary endeavors. You have an opportunity to learn from all the teams involved: marketing, finance, operations, etc. Take advantage of that. Strive to become conversant, if not fluent, in all of the domains you intersect with. You’re in a unique position to understand how all the pieces fit together. The more you can give yourself the tools to go wide and go deep, the better equipped you will be to take on anything that comes your way.”
And Throne believes a lot will be coming our way, industry veterans and newcomers alike. COVID-19 and the Delta variant still threaten all aspects of business both in the short and potentially long term.
“I hate to say it, but I’m feeling somewhat pessimistic right now,” she says. “People were just starting to come out of social hibernation and were enthusiastic about being able to be together, having things open back up, getting used to seeing each other’s smiling faces. We all were excited to restart the engines of live entertainment and chomping at the bit for in-person connection. But as much as we are all desperate for things to feel ‘normal’ again, I think we all need to take a few steps back and revert to pre-vaccine availability behavior in order to get everything back on track so we can open up for real.”
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Tags: Leadership , Women in Ticketing