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Fall Arts Preview: The Ultimate Guide to an Entire Season's Worth of Cultural Happenings

Rounding up everything to see and do between now and the holidays. 


From First Look, an exhibition of the Asian Art Museum's contemporary collection.

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From September 9 through October 4, The Lion King comes to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

Photo: Courtesy of San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

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On September 11, Oakland-bred surf rockers Shannon and the Clams release their third album, Gone by Dawn, a breakup record for the books. Here, a breakdown of the band's sounds.

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A trio of favorite gowns worn by socialite Joy Venturini Bianchi, part of a one-night retrospective coming to the Hedge Gallery October 17.

Photos: Courtesy of Helpers SF

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Flamenco choreographer Andrés Marin comes to the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center November 20.

Photo: Courtesy of Theater Flamenco

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On December 4, Emspace Dance and Detour Dance present a performance all about relationships.

Photo: Courtesy of Detour Dance

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Take a deep breath. Gather your pennies. Clear your calendar. This fall’s cultural docket is overwhelmingly abundant. There are mind-melting art exhibits. Multiple 600-plus-page novels. A-list actors who can carry a tune. Let the next five pages serve as your guide, and don’t worry—we’ll forgive you for missing a few.  


9/1: Sit shotgun with a feisty lady

Constance Kopp is no Nancy Drew. One of the country’s first female detectives and the subject of bestselling author Amy Stewart’s new novel, Girl Waits with Gun (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Kopp is a gun-toting gal plagued by a family secret. Expect a highly willful protagonist penned with the utmost historical accuracy. 

9/1: Guess what Jonathan Franzen’s new book is about

The Santa Cruz–based author’s newest novel is: 

A. a multigenerational epic that includes the demise of a nuclear family due to an overbearing father.
B. about characters grappling with (but mostly in denial of) depression.
C. set in the Bay Area. 
D. all of the above.

Answer: D. What may sound like a typical Franzen narrative is actually a dramatic departure for the author of The Corrections and Freedom. The dictionary-size epic, Purity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), tracks Pip Tyler, a broke recent college grad with an overprotective mother who refuses to tell her who her father is. It’s loaded with Franzen-isms—including hyper-detailed internal explanations of erratic behavior. But they’re laced into a compelling mystery including (gasp!) murder. 

9/4: Be moved (even unsettled) by contemporary Asian art

The Asian Art Museum, an institution perhaps best known for recovering and showcasing relics, has been taking a refreshing turn toward the contemporary lately. First came 28 Chinese, on loan from the Rubell family and full of beautiful (but sometimes disturbing) contemporary Chinese art. Now there’s First Look, an exhibition of the museum’s contemporary collection, including works by artists like Zheng Chongbin, Xu Bing, and Zhu Jinshi. And this exhibit looks to be just as awe-inspiring and eerie as the last one. Through Oct. 11.

9/5: Crank up the bass with Billy Joel 

What does the Piano Man have in common with Beyoncé? Um, nothing—but he is the first pop star to take the AT&T Park stage since last August’s infamous Bey and Jay show, which angered persnickety residents by echoing all through the city. Will “Uptown Girl” be the new “Drunk in Love”? Only one way to find out.

9/8: Get lost in an oversexed San Francisco 

Sung J. Woo, author of the highly lauded Everything Asian, has a new novel on a slightly different subject. Love Love (Soft Skull Press) finds 40-year-old tennis coach Kevin Lee grappling with the discovery that not only was he adopted, but his biological parents were porn stars in ’70s San Francisco—a lot to take in for a man in the midst of a midlife crisis. 

9/9: Dive inside Rushdie’s brain

Salman Rushdie has written his 12th novel, titled Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, and it is (of course) full of magical realism. But get this: It takes place in modern-day New York City, not on the Indian subcontinent. Listen to him and KQED’s Michael Krasny discuss it at the Nourse Theater.

9/9: Let your inner child roar (again) at The Lion King

Admit it: You really, really want to sing along with Elton John’s classic songs and watch actors transform into savanna animals. Now’s your chance—you just have to make the trek down to San Jose to do it. Through Oct. 4.

9/10: Fly through time with Nicholas Nixon

Photographer Nicholas Nixon has been snapping portraits nonstop for 40 years. That’s a lot of photos. To commemorate that mountain of work, the Fraenkel Gallery is hosting About Forty Years, showcasing Nixon’s greatest hits. Gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel walks us through some of his favorite pieces. Through Oct. 24.

Robert Sappenfield, 1988
Sappenfield, who died of complications from AIDS in 1988, allowed Nixon to take portraits of him and his family as the disease took over. “Nick took a huge amount of flak from the gay community, who thought it was exploitive,” says Fraenkel. 

R.L., S.V., Cambridge, 2000
This image was captured with an 8x10 Deardorff, a large-format tripod camera that takes only one negative at a time. “The amount of spontaneity Nixon’s able to capture is just astounding,” says Fraenkel. 

My Desk, Cambridge, 1975
“This is a self-portrait to me,” says Fraenkel. “The detail is exceptionally revealing,” like books checked out from the library, a box that would fit a print, and a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry—all clues into who, exactly, Nixon is. 

9/11: Relish the silver lining of getting dumped

Oakland-bred surf rockers Shannon and the Clams release their third album, Gone by Dawn, a breakup record for the books. Both singer-bassist Shannon and singer-guitarist Cody were dumped while working on it, which yielded brutally honest, highly relatable tracks. 

9/11: Turn your perceptions upside down

Combine a 3,300-gallon tank of water, countless flea market finds, and the mind of Mexican artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, and you’ve got Everything but the Kitchen Sank, a still-life photography series that was taken completely underwater. Confused? So are we. But we’ll put our faith in the ever-determined Pereda, whose work has been in museums and galleries from New York to Munich. Through Oct. 3.


9/12: Don’t get on the barber’s bad side

Brace yourself for nearly three hours of slit throats with San Francisco Opera’s first-ever staging of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’ll make you happy to shave in the comfort of your own home. Through Sept. 29. 


9/16: Deepen your awareness of the Filipino experience

This month, A.C.T. presents Monstress, a two-act play based on underrated local author Lysley Tenorio’s short-story collection of the same name. Here, we share the play-making process. Through Nov​. 22, Strand Theater.

Step 1: Let the playwrights do the picking.
A.C.T.’s artistic director, Carey Perloff, gave playwrights Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San Jose free rein to adapt any story from Tenorio’s seven-piece collection. Gotanda lived in San Francisco during the International Hotel eviction, and so chose “Save the I-Hotel.” Meanwhile, second-generation Filipino San Jose had fallen in love with “Monstress”: “The story,” he says, “isn’t melodramatic about our immigrant past.”

Step 2: Similarities should be subtle.
The first act, “Remember the I-Hotel,” is the story of two residents of the infamous International Hotel on the eve of their eviction; the second act, “Monstress,” follows Reva and her director boyfriend, who always makes her the monster in his monster movies. So what do they have in common? “Both stories are about leaving your country and what that means,” says San Jose. “What part of your country do you give up when you move?”

Step 3: Leave a little up to the imagination.
The story “Monstress” is chock-full of crazy monster costumes, but the play sometimes requires a little creative thinking. “The costume designers do get to play with all these fabulous ideas,” says San Jose. “But we also want to tap in to the imagination of what a two-headed vampire could look like.” 

9/24: Choose your own dance adventure

How’s this for a dance show: You’re in a Mission warehouse that’s divided into many rooms, and you’re the one moving—sometimes freely, sometimes guided—through it. Each room contains a dance choreographed to use the space in every conceivable way. Such is the concept behind Joe Goode Dance Company’s Poetics of Space. Through Oct. 11.

9/24: Hear Captain Picard sing-talk

Attention, Starfleet: Acting legend and almost EGOT (he’s just missing the Oscar) Sir Patrick Stewart will be live onstage with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, sing-talking songs from My Fair Lady for the symphony’s opening gala. Yes, sing-talking, which is Stewart’s speciality. Bite the bullet and buy the tickets now.

9/25: Walk through a Supreme’s process

The Supreme Court is our nation’s highest, but it has to consider the consequences of its decisions beyond our borders, argues San Francisco native and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in his book The Court and the World (September 15, Penguin Random House). Journalist Marcia Coyle interviews him at the Nourse Theater. 

9/26: Witness war transform into art

One of the most enduring coping mechanisms for war veterans? Crafting. This month, the Museum of Craft and Design dedicates an exhibit to veterans’ work, which includes everything from porcelain plates to Iraq vet Thomas Dang’s dangling craft bombs. Art and Other Tactics, through March 27, 2016.

9/24 and 10/19: Measure Steve Jobs against Steve Jobs

Two films on the late Apple founder hit the big screen this fall: Going Clear director Alex Gibney’s documentary Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine (Sept. 24) and the Aaron Sorkin–penned feature Steve Jobs (Oct. 19). Both pull no punches with Jobs’s legacy, but which best captures him at his cruelest?  —Jackson Scarlett

ROUND 1: Threat-making skills 
→ Steve Jobs: John Sculley, realizing that he has crossed the wrong CEO, asks, “You’re going to end me, aren’t you?” Jobs’s response: “You’re being ridiculous. I’m going to sit center court and watch you do it yourself.” 
→ Man in the Machine: When employees leave for new, less life-consuming gigs, Jobs proclaims: “Apple is my family. Should you so much as decide to take one member of my family with you, I will take you down.”

Advantage: Man in the Machine. When it comes to being a horrible boss, a psychotic comment is far more effective than a witty one.

ROUND 2: Ability to shirk familial responsibilities
→ Steve Jobs: Jobs refuses to support his infant daughter Lisa and her mother, denying that he is Lisa’s father.
→ Man in the Machine: Jobs actually signs a sworn affidavit that he is infertile; paternity tests disagree.

Advantage: Man in the Machine. Kind of an empty victory, though.

ROUND 3: Spontaneous acts of rebellion
→ Steve Jobs: During the 1988 Next launch event, Sorkin’s Jobs slides down a banister at the Opera House.
→ Man in the Machine: Jobs leases a new Mercedes every six months to exploit a loophole that lets him drive without a license plate.

Advantage: Steve Jobs. No matter how you lease it, a Mercedes isn’t a rebel ride.

WINNER: Man in the Machine. Sorry, Sorkin, but even your fictionalized rendition isn’t as cutthroat as the real one. 

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