From the Deep Archives: August Moon Festival (1981)

August 30, 2018

Last weekend my husband and I decided on short notice to rent a car and drive up to Hudson to see a show with the very long title Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and Other Works by John Bernd. The show, produced by Lumberyard and performed at the beautiful Hudson Hall, debuted almost two years ago at Danspace in New York City, created by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez as a tribute to Bernd and by extension to a generation of downtown artists lost to AIDS. A cast of very young performers recreated a series of vignettes from Bernd’s work, which incorporated words, dancing, drawings, singing. It was a beautiful show that recaptured the essence of downtown New York in the 1980s, with echoes of Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, and the full panoply of postmodern dancer-choreographers running/jumping/standing still and performance artists yakking about whatever was on their minds. Along with original music by Nick Hallett, the piece burst with groovy music of the era by Prince, Lou Reed, New Order, and the S.O.S. Band, whose “Just Be Good to Me” opened the show, played in its entirety as the cast took their places onstage one by one and just stood there in their tighty-whities — sexy, brave, and sadly reminiscent of all the young bodies we lost to the plague.

Bernd died almost exactly thirty years ago, and the show in Hudson conjured my strongest memory of seeing Bernd performing in nearby Catskill at the August Moon Festival six years earlier, in August 1981. He and Tim Miller reprised Live Boys, a duet they had created and performed to great acclaim at P.S. 122. As I wrote in my review for the Soho News:

When Miller and Bernd first performed Live Boys at P. S. 122 last winter, it was essentially a celebration documenting their relationship (in words, slides, movement) with deadpan romanticism and explicit eroticism. But when they performed at August Moon, the relationship had broken up, which brought a riveting, almost unbearable edge to the performance. Tim cut straight to the bone by talking about how he and John were asked, before going to August Moon, whether they wanted “a room with one big bed or a room with two little beds”; a little bit later he announced, “This is our last performance.” (Apparently, the night before a playful boxing sequence had gotten out of hand, and some serious blows were landed.) Already the tension in the room was suffocating, and probably half the audience felt like saying, “Uh, I think I’ll go have a drink while you two guys work this out between yourselves.” But having allowed their lives to intrude so far into their art, Miller and Bernd impressively refrained from mawkish self-indulgence; their emotions, however private, fueled a devastating portrait of failed romance that anyone could relate to. And whereas originally the climax of the piece was a proud gesture (Tim spray-painting letters on their bare chests so that when they stood together their bodies read “faggots”), this performance ended with the two of them ripping and tearing their ceremonial pajama costumes to shreds. It was such a bummer that it was almost shocking to see Miller and Bernd the next day smiling and talking together at the same picnic table; but then they grabbed s hovel and went off into the woods to bury their shredded pajamas. Clearly, these men didn’t just tear up their lives into pieces to serve their art; they also knew how to use the ritual aspects of theater to heal their lives. And the two were unavoidably intertwined.

You can read the complete text of my review (“Art on the Rocks”) here.


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