What began as a burlesque-themed masquerade birthday party for 400 revelers has evolved into one of New York City’s most breathtaking galas: The Burlesquerade. This immersive, costumed feast for the imagination celebrates artistic expression, community, and inclusivity. Twice a year, thousands of revelers gather on a titanic super yacht to satisfy their souls and their senses amidst an experiential collective known as the Lightning Society. They are dazzled by a distinctive assembly of world renowned dancers, musicians, theatrical performers, and installation artists.
It began in 2010 when Timothy Phillips threw a birthday party and invited the most interesting people he knew from across his diverse social circle. The guest list ranged from artists and ballroom dancers to business professional friends, to Burning Man friends at a time when festival culture was still on the outer reaches of the fringe. With the growth of social media such as Facebook, Timothy’s eclectic mix of contemporaries developed a sense of mutual curiosity after glimpsing each other’s Facebook profiles. Sensing the current of curiosity and the thirst for connection, Timothy shattered the walls of class and social boundaries as he reinvented the masquerade ball. Timothy believes we are all actors in each other’s experience and that the costumes we adopt represent a way to bridge the gap between performer and participant - allowing for the most authentic expression of self.
By setting an aspirational tone for each event, he created a space where everyone’s participation creates a living, breathing, creative mosaic for all. While some of his more conventional friends initially struggled to open themselves up to costuming, Timothy hit on a way to break down their inhibitions and open them up to new possibilities. He invited them to attend in tuxedos and ball gowns as ‘masquerade dancers,’ while asking his Burning Man friends to arrive as ‘burlesque dancers.’ The party was a smashing success. Some guests met new business partners, while others found a more personal connection, leading to passionate friendships and in some cases, marriage.
When the community exploded past 1,000 attendees in 2013, Phillips began requesting charitable donations at the door, raising $50,000 for the American Heart Association and Mythic Bridge, an organization that teaches at-risk kids to make films.
Power of Community
In 2014, just weeks before Phillips’ birthday celebration, his dear friend, a 29-year-old woman with a bright future, died tragically after being hit by a bus. Shocked and devastated, he couldn’t imagine hosting a gala and he cancelled it in order to mourn with his friends. Shortly afterwards, the Mythic Bride charity appealed his decision, confessing that he was their largest donor, and that without his help they could not continue their work. With that, Phillips agreed to throw a belated version of the party in December, calling it the Burrrlesquerade. For many in the community it was the first time they had gathered since the funeral. Her presence that evening was palpable. Many that knew her were comforted by the presence of her shared memory, while others who had never met her were inspired by her story. Phillips learned a profound lesson that night about the power of overcoming hardship as a community.
That moment of recognition - learning just how valuable it is to be supported by those around you - inspired him to start Lighting Society.
Timothy enlisted the help of friend Joe Che in 2015 when he formed Lightning Society, a world-class creative community that celebrates collaboration and connection. Joe, a former leader and guiding light of Disorient, one of Burning Man's most venerable camps. He brought extensive experience as a community leader and highly skilled event producer. When they put their hearts and heads together, the men realized that they could bring a piece of the magic of the Burning Man experience to New York City while removing the twin obstacles that made it inaccessible to many people: the festival’s distance from New York and its high cost of attendance. The magic of Burning Man combined with New York’s vibrance as a center of art and culture was a revelation, giving birth to a string of transformative cultural events and communities, each instilled with the principles of gifting, unbridled self-expression, and radical inclusion.
Joe has since moved on to pursue solo projects but the show goes on! In the true spirit of collaboration, Timothy has used the proceeds from the event to endow a grant program in support of local artists and performers with the shared hope of seeing their visions become reality.
To all our friends and collaborators who believe in our crazy ideas and come out to support every year, thank you so much for all you do! We love you and we couldn't do it without you!!