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Kew Gardens man center of Oscar doumentary

As Sarah Kernochan danced stood at the podium Sunday night, accepting her Oscar, she was flanked on one side by her co-producer and on her other side by a man wearing a gold loincloth and little else. His dreadlocks were tied in a pony tail at the top of his head, and he whirled, danced and played violin with joy and wonder.

Perhaps that expression is unusual at the Academy Awards, but it is not for the Queens native who was the subject of Kernochan’s short subject documentary, “Thoth.”

Thoth is the name of the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, and the name assumed by Stephen Kaufman, an internationally recognized street performer who graduated from the LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts in Manhattan.

Born and raised in St. Albans, Kaufman’s mother was a timpanist from Barbados and his father was a doctor of Russian and Jewish descent. He started music lessons at an early age, though shied away from the piano, the instrument his parents wished he would play, because he was scared.

“I began piano lessons at an early age, but I didn't practice,” he wrote on his Web site. “The piano was in the basement, and it terrified me to go down there - in that scary, cold room. Then, because of a dream one night, I changed to the violin.”

After studying with Mara Dvonch, first violinist with the American Symphony Orchestra, and then Harry Glickman, first violinist in the NBC String Quartet and Assistant Concertmaster of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, he went on to LaGuardia.

From there, he moved with his family to San Francisco where he continued to study violin, now with David Schneider, Principal Second Violinist of the San Francisco Symphony.

After being discouraged by orchestral repertoire, Kaufman quit and began to explore other talents, like dancing and writing.

“I was a much sought after club dancer for a while,” he noted.

But it was then that he started to develop a more spiritual idea of himself, of his ancestry, and of his art. Years ago he had dreamed a fantasy world that he named “Festad,” and soon he began to blend this fantasy world with his new spiritual philosophy, song, dance and music as a street performer named Thoth.

Playing all over the world, though mostly in the Bay Area and in Central Park, Thoth became an icon among street performers, and developed a style he calls “pray-forming” rather than performing.

It was after several times that Kernochan had seen Thoth perform at the tunnel near Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, that she decided to make a film about the man, his life, and his art.

Now a resident of Kew Gardens Hills, Thoth has reached international acclaim as an independent artist, unbowing to labels, unashamed of his expression and unwilling to compromise. He has released six albums in the last six years, including a three-disc “solopera” entitled “The Herma: The Life and Land of Nular-in.”

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