Sacred Charlatan

Sacred Charlatan is a performance/concert created by Nikki Appino with music composed by Philip Glass and Tibetan folk singer and musician Tenzin Choegyal. Performed by actor Kevin Joyce and Tenzin Choegyal, the piece is inspired by the life and death of Theos Bernard (aka: the “White Lama”) as his journey intersects with western spiritualism, eastern religion and the tabloid environment of early 20th century America.

In March of 1938,Theos Bernard gave an alumnus lecture at the University of Arizona. When the curtains opened before a packed house, all in attendance saw Theos, religious scholar, explorer, mystic, in full Tibetan garb, seated in a chair next to a movie projector. “Come with me,” he invited the audience, “in a flight on the clipper ship of imagination, from San Francisco across the vast Pacific…into the heart of Asia – the land of the Lama – Tibet!”

As the evening progressed, Bernard provided dramatic details of his “recognition” by the Tibetans as the 8th century master, Padmasambhava, and of the prophesy of the coming of a white man who would herald and bring about the spread of Buddhism to the western world. Whatever actually transpired, Tibet opened the doors of their kingdom for Bernard, and he traveled home to New York with fifty mule loads of priceless, essential Tibetan scriptures.

The lecture was a huge success, and he received endorsements that enabled him to secure a contract for a lecture tour from a public relations firm in New York. Appearing four times on the cover of the largest-circulation magazine of the day, befriending the rich and famous, this charismatic and controversial “White Lama” helped introduce yoga and a spiritual path to American culture.

During his brief career, Bernard’s struggle to achieve both fame and legitimacy. Sensationalistic reports concerning his claims and identity garnered some positive public feedback, but also earned him private scorn and dismissal as a fraud and imposter. In 1947, he launched a second expedition into the Himalayas. He was never seen again.

What we know can only be pieced together from the fragments of his life left in the wake of his disappearance. Sacred Charlatan assembles these pieces into an impressionistic multimedia performance, scored by the incomparable team of Philip Glass and Tenzin Choegyal.

The Sacred Charlatan

-The Life and Death of Theos Bernard