10 August Culture Essentials


Another outdoor art experience on view through August 16 is the Rockefeller Center Flag Project featuring the designs of artists like Jeff Koons and Jenny Holzer alongside submissions from around the world. Image: @madinnyc

It’s August and it is hot, and as the COVID-19 infection rate rages on in other parts of the country and New Yorkers are collectively hoping against hope that we can somehow avoid a second wave this fall, the hole where our usual cultural options used to be is starting to shrink, as more institutions embrace outdoor shows and open their doors just a bit. While it’s true that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the arts, it’s also true that the creative energy out there can’t be suppressed, and there are a ton of incredible opportunities to see and hear and experience beauty and wonder in person and from the safety of your Zoom account. Below are some of the things we’re looking forward to taking advantage of in this sweltering mess of a month, which, let’s be honest, is always gross and bad mood-inducing even when we’re not in the middle of worst year anyone can remember. Long live the arts! It’s one of the best shared human experiences and a universal panacea for all kinds of adversity, so don’t forget to lend your support to the people who are continuing to make it where you can. Happy hunting and stay cool and safe!

1. Luster, Aug. 3

Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, is generating a lot of buzz and with glowing reviews from writers like Zadie Smith and Carmen Maria Machado, it has quickly become one of the most highly-anticipated book releases of the summer. The story follows Edie, a complicated 20-something Black female whose artistic ambitions are floundering when she gets involved with an older white couple in an open marriage and gets to know their adopted 12-year-old Black daughter. Tuesday, August 4, is the official publication date, but Leilani will be appearing to promote Luster at Greenlight Bookstore (via Zoom) tonight with Samantha Irby, whose Wow, No Thank You, was a pandemic favorite of mine. 

2. John Waters at Murmrr, Aug. 4

Let’s see, a random Tuesday night in the dog days of summer, smack in the middle of a pandemic. . . not a recipe for super exciting cultural experiences, right? Think again, because the inimitable John Waters and Jim Jarmusch are hosting a live streaming event via Murmrr Theatre on August 4th to promote the paperback release of Mr. Know-It-All, Waters’ latest essay collection. It’s not every day that you get to hear two absolute icons like these two dish about fame and Hollywood and their extraordinary careers, even in the before times, so be sure to grab a ticket here

3. Greenpoint Film Festival, now through Aug. 10

A few months back, it looked like the Greenpoint Film Festival, which was supposed to run for its eighth year in May, was going to be yet another casualty of the coronavirus lockdown. However, due to some quick thinking and creative ideas, the celebration of selected shorts and feature films is now underway, with socially distant screenings scheduled from now through August 10. Tickets are available here for the various themed programs like “I <3 Earth” or “Into the Wild,”, all of which include around 2 hours of film viewed from your car or on the ground with up to 5 of your pandemic bubble buddies. 

4. Chris Gethard and friends, Aug. 9

Parklife is getting into the outdoor comedy show game on August 9, with two live shows starting at 6:30 and 9pm featuring Chris Chiello, Carmen Christopher, and headliner Chris Gethard. There’s no way that you couldn’t use a laugh these days, and what better place to really relax and enjoy it than a giant yard with ample seating and killer palomas on offer.

5. In My Skin, now streaming on Hulu

In My Skin, a Welsh BBC hit that is made its stateside debut on Hulu last month, has garnered extensive critical acclaim for presenting an unflinching look into the difficulties of being a high schooler with a difficult home life. Sixteen-year old Bethan has a bipolar mom and a drunk dad, and spends a lot of time and energy making up elaborate lies to ensure that her peers don’t find out any of it. When her fabulism eventually catches up with her, things get really interesting, and I’ve read that the ending is an excellent setup for further seasons to come. The 5-episode first series is streaming in its entirety now. 

Image: Serena Stevens, “The Gallery,” 2020, oil on canvas.

6. Serena Stevens at Postmasters, thru Sept. 12

Like most people I’ve spoken with during “these uncertain times,” I have been really into nature this summer, enjoying things like hikes and birds and sunsets and finding cool rocks in a way that I wasn’t really doing before. All that said, though, I find myself positively *desperate* to see art, and am thrilled by the rolling reopenings of galleries (with new safety precautions) happening throughout the city. One exhibition that caught my eye is this show of beautiful, melancholic realist paintings by Serena Stevens at Tribeca’s Postmasters gallery, which has been praised in The New Yorker and Bloomberg News. It’s hanging through September 12, and the gallery does not require appointments but limits admission to 4 people at a time, so it sounds like it might be the perfect thing to do in the middle of a weekday when you can sign off Zoom for an extra-long lunch break.  

7. The Line, through Sept. 1

Another of the city’s rare gifts that the coronavirus disaster has all but decimated for the time being is getting to see new plays, which I’m really beginning to miss. Luckily, the Public Theater has been hard at work trying to recreate the experience as best it can while we wait out this seemingly endless wild ride. Case in point: The Line, a New York Times Critic’s pick that is based on interviews with real-life frontline healthcare workers during the height of the virus’ surge in New York City. The cast includes several notable stage actors, including Lorraine Toussaint, Jamey Sheridan, John Ortiz, and Alison Pill, all performing via streaming video. The Line premiered on July 8, but is available for streaming on The Public’s YouTube channel now through September 1. 

Image: Still from “Tesla,” courtesy IFC Films

8. Rooftop Films Queens Drive-In, Aug. 13-30

If you missed the fun of Rooftop Films’ Drive-In Movies at the Brooklyn Army Terminal last month, fear not, because they have packed up the show and moved it to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for August. The programming begins on August 13, with a screening of Tesla, the biopic about the brilliant inventor starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, and Jim Gaffigan, and ends on August 30 with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hurry up and grab tickets soon because the August 16 of The Muppet Movie has already sold out!

9. Storm King Art Center, now open

Until it reopened very recently, my near-annual day trip to Storm King outdoor sculpture park did not look like a 2020 possibility, and I was not a happy camper. I always love going up there and walking the expansive grounds while interacting with giant works by artists like Maya Lin, Andrew Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, and Alexander Calder, but it feels like an activity that is especially appropriate for right now, when I’m itching to spend time in nature, and most of the city’s museums and galleries remain temporarily closed. The big change this year is that everyone needs to buy a timed-entry ticket in advance, and my advice would be to not sleep on that as I suspect a lot of people are going to be eager to make Storm King part of their pandemic summer plan. 

10. The New One, Aug. 30

At first glance, a new book of a Brooklyn couple’s thoughts on being new parents like pretty thoroughly trod territory, but when you consider that The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is a collaboration between comedian Mike Birbiglia and his wife, the poet Jennifer Hope Stein, it suddenly seems a lot more interesting. The birth of the couple’s daughter Oona, and Birbiglia’s funny and often dark observations around it, was the fodder for his hit Broadway show of the same name, and he’s now adapted that chapter in his life with new material and poetry from Hope Stein to create an entirely new work that is sure to resonate with parents everywhere and provide laughs and inspiration to the rest of us. The two will be appearing to talk about the book at a virtual event hosted by Books Are Magic on August 30, and it’s free to attend with your purchase of a new copy.

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