The Black Party :: Thriving Into 35

by Steve Weinstein
Sunday Mar 16, 2014

How has the Black Party, the annual New York City mega-dance event survived and thrived for 35 years? While other branded parties, and even the concept of the "Circuit" itself, have fallen prey to changing times and tastes, the Black Party has managed continually to re-invent itself.

What began at the original Saint as a strictly leather-S/M event evolved into a more broadly defined fetish party. Since moving to Roseland, its home for a quarter of a century, the Black Party has become, in the words of Stephen Pevner, an "arts experience, a cultural festival expression of sexual expression. Now, it’s an art form, combining entertainment, theatrical storytelling, postmodern but also subversive. It’s taken a long, hard route."

Even so, he added, what keeps thousands of men (and, more recently, women) returning year after year is that the Saint at Large, the producing organization that Pevner heads, has stuck to fundamentals while broadening the party’s scope and ambitions. "The party hasn’t changed that much," he said. "It’s accepted on its own terms."

For many of us, the Black Party represents the glory days of the gay club, which reached its zenith with the Saint. Open only to members, it incorporated so many innovations and superior design that even today, there’s a general consensus among lighting designers, architects and sound engineers - gay and straight - that it was the greatest nightclub that ever existed.

One Last Hurrah(?)!

Almost from the time it opened in 1980, however, the Saint had an uninvited guest, a disease that would eventually claim so many of its members that it was forced to close only six years later. The Saint at Large spent a few years wandering from venue to venue before settling down at Roseland Ballroom, a gargantuan converted ice-skating rink in Midtown Manhattan that boasts the largest dance floor in the city, nearly a quarter of an acre unobstructed by columns and a ceiling height that can accommodate the most elaborate lighting displays.

Although it is one of the most popular mid-sized venues for rock acts and events like "Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS" hugely popular burlesque revue, the building continued to fall into disrepair. Finally, word leaked out last year that Roseland would go under the wrecking ball.

The club is marking its closing with a series of Lady Gaga concerts, the last on April 7. But the pride of the place for the last dance event will be the Black Party, which takes place from Saturday night, March 22, well into the next afternoon.

So it’s entirely appropriate that, for its final hurrah at Roseland, the Saint at Large has chosen the theme "A Ruined Paradise." SAL’s promotional video and artwork are tributes to the vast Indian subcontinent, the theme also works perfectly as a homage to Roseland itself.


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