10 Culture Essentials for August

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Just gonna come right out and say it: August isn’t my favorite month. I don’t do well in heat in general, and it’s tough to be stuck in the grind in the city when it seems like everyone else is off summering somewhere with roadside farmstands and hammocks and screened-in porches and swimming pools. When you add in the fact that most venues and museums and theaters seem to take a bit of a breather on new programming until after Labor Day, it’s a time of year that can feel a little humdrum and stultifying.

The thing is, though, New York City never really slows down, and there are still loads of cultural events and releases and activities happening this month if you know where to look. So, dog days notwithstanding, give a gander to our list of noteworthy end-of-summer happenings that we’re looking forward to and make some plans to get out and about and cultured.

1. Trick Mirror, Aug. 5

I feel a little bit like I’m cheating here because I’m cross-posting Jia Tolentino’s Books Are Magic appearance from this week’s Ideal Week roundup, but that’s how excited I am for the release of Trick Mirror, a collection of nine original essays from the New Yorker staff writer who has been called “the Joan Didion of our time” and “the best young essayist in the United States.” If you’re already familiar with Tolentino’s incisive, funny, fearless, and penetrating voice, you won’t be surprised to hear that the book, which tackles topics like wedding culture, social media, and the pervasive fetishizing of “optimization,” is already being described as “an instant classic of the worst decade yet.” She’ll appear in conversation with Doreen St. Felix at Books Are Magic this Monday night, and will read from and sign copies of the book, which officially hits shelves on August 6. 

2. Mac DeMarco, Aug. 6

On Tuesday, August 6, the Prospect Park Bandshell will host the final benefit concert of the 2019 Celebrate Brooklyn! season, and it’s a banger! Canadian-born singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mac DeMarco is one of the most anticipated tours coming through town this summer, and I’m just as excited to see openers Ex Hex, a super cool all-female garage rock band out of DC. Tickets are still available, and the show starts at 7:30pm. 

3. Punks, Poets, & Valley Girls, Aug. 7- Aug. 20

Although we’re all familiar with the woeful underrepresentation of women in the film industry, female filmmakers have still managed to break through the patriarchy to create classic films that have had a resonant impact for the past half-century. One period where women directors came on especially strong was the 1980s, when pioneers like Amy Heckerling, Kathryn Bigelow, and Penny Marshall and others produced a wave of decade-defining movies, including Big, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Yentl, to the big screen. At the same time, women like Kathleen Collins and Lizzie Borden were producing film outside of Hollywood and representing the New York downtown scene, the New Queer Cinema Movement, and the LA Rebellion. To recognize this much-needed Regan-era infusion of female perspective and sensibilities into the movie industry, BAM is hosting a 2-week-long series of screenings called Punks, Poets, and Valley Girls: Women Filmmakers in 1980s America starting on August 7. 

4. Sea Wall/A Life, opening Aug. 8

Last spring, The Public Theatre’s limited run of Sea Wall/A Life, two tragic monologues performed as a double bill by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal, received rave reviews and was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Now, the show is headed to Broadway for nine weeks starting on August 8, and tickets start at just $60, which is a pretty good deal for a such a big-name cast. If you can handle two extremely sad stories conveyed back-to-back, it sounds like you are in for beautifully acted, deeply affecting performances from both Sturridge and Gyllenhaal. 

5. Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, Aug. 9

I’m not big on scary movies—truth be told, I’m a real wimp and I still haven’t managed to make myself see Midsommar yet—but every once in a while I’ll make a point of seeing a thriller that seems especially promising for one reason or another. Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, which is based on the book series that terrified every tween in the 90s, seems like one of those, not in small part because Guillermo del Toro has a writing credit. Assuming there are a few more 90-plus degrees days in our future this month, it’s likely that I’ll spend one of them watching this (and hiding my face in my hands) in an air-conditioned theater.  

6. “Graveyard Shift,” Aug. 10

Red Hook art center and performance space Pioneer Works is closed for renovations until fall, but luckily they have spread their excellent programming to new outdoor spaces for the summer. In addition to an ongoing series on Governors Island, Pioneer Works is also collaborating with Green-Wood Cemetery to produce “Graveyard Shift,” a limited series of site-specific, immersive sound and movement installations on the verdant grounds of the cemetery. In the second edition of the series, Untitled (Green-Wood), which happens on August 12, artist Kim Brandt will explore motion, inertia, and circles and spheres with a troupe of performers moving through Cedar Dell, a circular landscape within the cemetery. 

7. Mindhunter, Season 2, Aug. 16 

Even though the uninhibited proliferation of true-crime series and podcasts tells me I’m not alone, I always feel a little bit creepy talking about how much I love shows like Mindhunter, Netflix’s David Fincher-produced 2017 drama about the nascent days of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and its study of serial killers in the 70s. The long-awaited second season will be released on August 17, and evidently will focus on the Atlanta Child Murders, the Son of Sam, and Charles Manson. Not exactly light fare, but worth it if crime procedurals, detective work, and the study of psychopathy are things that typically draw you in. 

8. The Bird and the Bee cover Van Halen, Elsewhere August 17

In 2010, the Bird and the Bee, the Los Angeles-based duo of Inara George and Greg Kurstin released a covers album titled Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Their jazzy, lounge-styled synthpop renditions of such tracks as “I Can’t Go For That” and “Rich Girl” perfectly complemented Hall and Oates’ trademark rock-and-soul sound. Nearly a decade later, the Bird and the Bee are back with another tribute album—and their choice is something out of left field: the hard rock band Van Halen. To make Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen without any electric guitars (ironic given that Eddie Van Halen’s explosive guitar has always defined the band’s sound) seems like a huge undertaking. Yet somehow George and Kurstin pull it off as they re-imagine VH classics like “Panama” and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” as sophisticated-sounding electronic pop music. For their interpretations of “Hot for Teacher,” the Bird and the Bee employ Beck for a hilarious spoken-word cameo. The whole thing appears unusual on the face of it, but Kurstin and George’s love for Van Halen is full of sincerity and devoid of irony. George will be touring as the Bird and the Bee to promote the new album, while Kurstin—who is an in-demand hit producer having worked with Adele, Foo Fighters and Sia—will be sit this one out. Expect some popular Van Halen tunes and other charming pop numbers to be performed by the group when they come to Brooklyn’s Elsewhere on August 17.—David Chiu

9. The Macauley Culkin Show, Aug. 18

For the past 6 years, Brett Davis and Sally Burtnick have hosted an annual summer comedy festival named after former child actor Macauley Culkin, despite the fact that the Home Alone star has never been involved in it in any way. This year, everything changes because due to popular demand, Culkin himself has agreed to haul his cookies out to The Bell House to participate. Even though the organizers admit that they don’t really know what this looks like, it’s definitely going to be exciting. As in years past, The Macauley Culkin Show has collected an amazing lineup of comedic talent, including Jon Glaser, Chris Gethard, Clare O’Kane, and Josh Gondelman, so no matter what you’re guaranteed lots of laughs. The best part is that is is CHEAP, with tickets running you just $5. 

10. Afropunk, Aug. 24-25

August in New York is synonymous with the Afropunk Festival, an annual two-day event celebrating black artists, music and culture in Commodore Barry Park that is known for attracting an incredible amount of talent. This year, the lineup includes Jill Scott, FKA Twigs, Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr., Santigold, Kamasi Washington, Toro Y Moi, and dozens more. There will also be a ton of DJ sets, food trucks, art installations, and lots of sweaty dancing. Most of the single-day tickets have sold out, but you can still buy a day-pass for Sunday or a full festival pass here (although you should move fast as I’d bet those won’t be available for long). 

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