Sacred Charlatan


Sacred Charlatan is a multi-media work performed by two musicians and one actor, about the quest for the sacred, framed by the adventurous life and death of Theos Bernard. Both biography and invocation, the piece is envisioned as a concert with visuals, soundscape, text and a live score by Composer Phillip Glass.

In 1937 after years of stopping foreigners at the border, the Tibetan government welcomes a young American and initiates him into their secret world. He’s greeted as a reincarnation of their most beloved saint and returns to America to great acclaim carrying hundreds of sacred texts. He travels the country as showman, celebrity and spiritual teacher. In 1947 he sets out again for Tibet…and never returns. Sacred Charlatan is inspired by the life and disappearance of Theos Bernard as his journey intersects with eastern religion, western spiritualism, and the tabloid environment of early 20th century America.

Theos Casmir Hamati Bernard (b.1908) was many things including a religious pioneer, an early yoga practitioner, and one of the first westerners to set foot in Lhasa, Tibet.  He garnered positive public feedback, but also scorn and private dismissal as a fraud and imposter. He played a role in the surprising story of Hatha yoga and Asian religious practices coming to America – these centuries-old spiritual disciplines, once dangerous and alien, now commonplace on Main Street or at the mall.

As a performative experience, Sacred Charlatan features a live Phillip Glass composition on piano and synthesizer with Tibetan musical master Tenzin Cheogyal on various traditional instruments. Atop this soundscore is Kevin Joyce’s acting, movement, and vocal work in the role of Theos Bernard, along with film and video by Nikki Appino, who is also the piece’s conceiver and director.

To make palpable the thrust of Theos’s narrative and the drive of his quest requires a weave of content and form. The works structure is more similar to a Mass than a traditional performance piece. In addition to the music; spoken word, archival footage and sound will orient the viewer in time and place. The piece will move from biographical representations (e.g., a turn of century newsreel) to large visuals; a move from the relative world to the universal. Influenced by the intent of ritual performance and relying on an audience’s innate narrative need, the piece will develop it’s vocabulary through a series of workshops and rough recording sessions over the next two years.

Sacred Charlatan is about the fertile religious climate in America that has inspired both devotion and demagoguery. It’s also about lineage and legacy; the power and influence that one life can have over time, like a teacher on a protégé. Most importantly, it’s about a commitment to carving a path into the unknown and “the seeker” in all of us.

Each collaborator has diverse capacities within the larger realm of live performance. They have decades of experience, and each in their own way, work non-traditionally with the disciplines they have mastered.

Nikki Appino (Lead Artist) is a multi-disciplinary theater artist and filmmaker  who trained at NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing. She made her way to Seattle and started a nonprofit to generate original works for stage and screen. Returning to NYC in 2003 her most recent project, Club Diamond(with Saori Tsukada) was selected for the Sundance TheatreMakers Residency and their Theatre Lab at MassMoca. It premiered at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in 2017.

Nikki has known Kevin Joyce (Performer) for over 20 years. Kevin co-founded UMO Ensemble in 1989, and co-created 14 original shows with over 1000 performances in US and abroad as an actor, physical improviser, writer, and musician. Since 2003, with partner Martha Enson, Kevin has run EnJoy Productions, where he serves as writer, director, host, emcee and comic characters for 50+ events a year, most recently facilitating a meeting at the United Nations.

Born to a nomad family in Tibet, Tenzin Choegyal (co-composer) grew up in the refugee community in northern India after his family fled Tibet.  He plays the Dranyen (Tibetan lute), Lingbu (transverse bamboo flute), and his most outstanding instrument is his voice. Tenzin has been an avid collaborator with musicians from diverse cultures, traditions and genres.  From classical (with Camerata of St John’s), to ancient traditional (with William Barton) and contemporary (with Philip Glass).

Philip Glass (Composer) Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Paul Simon to David Bowie, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times.

The Sacred Charlatan

-The Life and Death of Theos Bernard