This September, the stage lights rise on another memorable season of art, dance, theater, and music in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Whether your tastes lean toward classics or the contemporary, there are plenty of reasons to clear your calendar, starting with the co-exhibition of two internationally acclaimed artists, Ai Weiwei and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, in Sacred and Profane Geometries at Fort Mason’s Haines Gallery, and ending with ODC’s beloved Bay Area holiday dance performance, The Velveteen Rabbit.
Here are our picks for the best of the Bay Area’s stage productions, visual arts shows, and festivals in Fall 2023.
Museums + Art Galleries
Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami's "Unfamiliar People 2," from his upcoming show at the Asian Art Museum.
(Courtesy of @takashipom)
Two masters of traditional-meets-modern art, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, bring their work to Haines Gallery this fall. The concurrent solo exhibitions, Sacred and Profane Geometries, will include Weiwei’s monumental 500-component commentary on the power of the collective in the face of authoritarianism. Farmanfarmaian’s works will include her signature mosaics, which reflect on both Iran’s tribal peoples and women's rights. // Sacred and Profane Geometries, Sept. 5 through Oct. 28; The Haines Gallery, 2 Marina Blvd., Bldg. C (Marina), hainesgallery.com
Asian Art Museum
This September, monsters will ensnare the Asian Art Museum in their claws. Japanese artist Takashi Murakami uses the creatures to interrogate the complexity of the world, its rapidly changing digital landscape, and the beasts humans have both created and become. With his signature color-soaked anime-and-magna-inspired pop art, the internationally recognized master will deliver a nuanced exploration of human behavior. // Takashi Murakami: Unfamiliar People—Swelling of Monsterized Human Ego, Sept. 15 through Feb. 12, 2024; The Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St. (Civic Center), asianart.org
de Young Museum
For only the second time in the history of the de Young, the museum democratizes the concept of museum-quality art with The de Young Open, an exhibition featuring 887 works from professional and outsider artists from all nine Bay Area counties. Jury-selected from 7,766 submissions, they’ll be displayed in floor-to-ceiling salon style throughout the fall. All of the works are for sale and the artists will retain 100% of the profits. Catch the only exhibition of its kind at a major U.S. museum. // The de Young Open 2023 runs from Sept. 30 through Jan. 7, 2024; de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. (Golden Gate Park), famsf.org
Museum of the African Diaspora
On September 27th, MoAD simultaneously welcomes three bold new exhibitions to its galleries. The first is a retrospective of contemporary mixed media painter and installation artist Joe Sam, which will feature around 20 works addressing the ongoing political climate and its impact on Black Americans. The second opening, Spectrum: On Color & Contemporary Art, exhibits the color-drenched art of 17 multigenerational Black artists from around the world. Both run through March 3, 2024. Finally, Salimatu Amabebe’s Grass, a multimedia installation that integrates video and sculpture into a performance space dedicated to Black nightlife, communication, and communion runs through December 10th. // MoAD, 685 Mission St. (SoMa), moadsf.org
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
In Japanese icon Yayoi Kusama’s first solo presentation in Northern California, Infinite Love (Oct. 14 through Sept. 7, 2024), the artist brings her colorful, kaleidoscopic world view to SFMOMA with two Infinity Mirror Rooms, including Love is Calling, which is among her largest, most immersive works to date. Kusama will also debut her newest universe, a chamber of shifting light and hue titled Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love. “When people see their own reflection multiplied to infinity they then sense that there’s no limit to man’s ability to project himself into endless space,” Kusama says cryptically of the upcoming installation, which is poised to be one of the season’s most captivating.
Go for Kusama, but stay for another pair of worthy exhibitions: Filipina American artist Pacita Abad’s colorful multimedia work—including painting, sculpture, and textiles—centers on the triumphs and adversities of people on the periphery of power (Oct. 21 through Jan. 28, 2024). You can also explore ecstatic images of queer nightlife and the documentation of social movements in the lush experimental photography of Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear (Nov. 11 through March 3, 2024).// SFMOMA, 151 3rd St. (SoMa), sfmoma.orgThank you to our partners at SFMOMA.
Hadestown comes to the Orpheum Theatre and the San Jose Center this September and October .
(T. Charles Erikson)
Hippest Trip: The Soul Train Musical
At the end of August, the American Conservatory Theater kicked off six weeks of dance-in-your-seat fun with a new musical about legendary TV variety show Soul Train. The world-premiere of the Broadway-bound production follows the story of entrepreneur D.J. Don Cornelius, who transformed the pop culture landscape by creating a space for African American music and dance in the 1970s, and the performers who kept the show going strong for almost 40 years. // Aug. 27 through Oct. 8 at The Toni Rembe Theater; 415 Geary St. (Union Square), act-sf.org
Greek mythology is at the heart of this fall’s touring Broadway production, Hadestown. The musical follows the trials of two pairs of lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and Persephone, as they journey to the underworld and back again. With a beguiling score performed by a vibrant company of singers, dancers and actors, Hadestown delivers hope in the face of fear and doubt. // Sept. 12-17 at Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St. (Civic Center), broadwaysf.com; Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd. (San Jose), broadwaysanjose.com
This lyrical coming-of-age-story by Berkeley native Eisa Davis centers on Bulrusher, a clairvoyant young Boonville woman whose world is transformed when she’s visited by a Black girl from Birmingham, Alabama in 1955. Drenched in passion, down-home humor and rhythm, this play earned top honors as a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. // Oct. 27 through Dec. 3 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St. (Berkeley), berkeleyrep.org
Death of a Salesman
When the African-American Shakespeare Company takes on Arthur Miller's 1949 masterpiece, it will be a check on the bucket list for company artistic director L. Peter Callender, who will star as the weary traveler Willy Loman under the direction of Oakland native Ted Lange. // Oct. 28 through Nov. 12 at Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness. (Civic Center), african-americanshakes.org
Guided by the music of her grandmother’s karaoke machine, Sara Porkalob’s solo cabaret musical Dragon Lady follows her Filipino American gangster family over 50 years of crime, beginning in a Manila nightclub in the 1960s. The one-woman tour-de-force is a funny and fearless exploration of society’s seedy underbelly, heritage, and the experience of being an immigrant single mom in America. // Nov. 24 to Dec. 17 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. (Mill Valley), marintheatre.org
Brooklyn ensemble Urban Bush Women make their Bay Area debut with Hair & Other Stories December 1-3 at Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley.
(Courtesy of @ubwdance)
Bellwether Dance Project: Aurora Sad Magic
This September, the Bellwether Dance Project’s second home season premieres two new works alongside the “flat-out transcendent” piece Let Slip the Witches. Artistic director Amy Foley leads the troupe through their paces, dancing solo to the sounds of a poet and pianist in What’s the Matter, and guiding a group of the Bay Area’s most captivating performers through a septet inspired by human grief in Aurora Sad Magic. // Sept. 14-16 at the B. Way Theater, 3153 17th St. (Mission), odc.dance
Entre Despierto y Dormido
In this new work by Rogelio Lopez and Dancers, foxes, bunnies, and femme boys bend and twist in expressions of fantasy, anxiety, and identity. With their movement, Entre Despierto y Dormido attempts to resuscitate the pieces of ourselves we hide away to belong. // Nov. 3-12 at Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama St. (Mission-Potrero), joegoode.org
In the Presence of Absence
In the rear view mirror but nonetheless continuing to impact how we relate to one another and the world around us, the pandemic has inspired yet another piece of art: In the Presence of Absence, from the Deborah Slater Dance Company, reflects on the social isolation of Covid through the experiences of a wide variety of individuals who shared their stories. The subject matter may seem gloomy, but sparkling costumes and an original score by Marcus Shelby are a promise. // Nov. 10-12 at Dance Mission Theatre, 3316 24th St. (Mission), eventbrite.com
Urban Bush Women: Hair & Other Stories
In their first Bay Area performance, formidable Brooklyn-based ensemble Urban Bush Women brings to life a participatory production built around activism, awakening, and engagement. In the full-length dance-theater work Hair & Other Stories, a piece inspired by MacArthur Fellow and founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 2001 HairStories, the company explores race, identity, and beauty through the lens of African American hair. // Dec 1-3 at Zellerbach Playhouse, 2413 Bancroft Way (Berkeley), calperformances.org
The Velveteen Rabbit
The Velveteen Rabbit, an annual Bay Area delight for almost 40 years, is back this holiday season. This time around, students from ODC’s youth program will bring the beloved storybook to life under the direction of crackerjack Velveteen choreographer KT Nelson. // Dec. 1-10 at Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA, 700 Howard St. (SoMa), odc.dance
Music + Festivals
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass takes over Golden Gate Park, September 29 through October 1.
(Jay Blakesberg, courtesy of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass)
Day to Night Festival
At Treasure Island’s third annual Day to Night Festival, an incredible lineup of DJs combined with unique production set the stage for a boutique dance-till-you-drop party in the shadow of the bay. Artists like Duke Dumon, Desert Hearts, and others will keep things lively until Gordo brings down the house with a sunset set. // 1pm to 9pm Sept. 16;11th + Ave. H (Treasure Island), daytonightfestival.com
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Rufus Wainwright, Valerie June, Jason Isbell, Buffalo Nichols, and Beth Orton are just a few of the names already confirmed to headline this year's return of one of SF’s best free music festivals. In addition to a weekend of music at Golden Gate Park, keep an eye out for Hardly Strictly artists showing up outside their natural habitat at a handful of venues around the Bay Area. // Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 in Golden Gate Park, hardlystrictlybluegrass.com
SF’s massive literary festival returns under new leadership and with fresh perspective this October. Though this year’s lineup has not been announced as of press time, we expect a diverse program of live events celebrating and engaging in a variety of literary pursuits—think writing workshops, readings from upcoming books, conversations with writers, and more. Actor Tate Donovan and novelist Henry Hoke are just two of the big names confirmed to be on board. // Oct. 5-21 at venues around SF, litquake.org
This genre-blending music festival returns to SF with DJs, musicians, and a silent disco. Headliners include Alan Walker, DJ Snake, Madeon, and Nightmare over this two-day send up to sound. // Oct. 13-14 at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. (Civic Center), breakawayfestival.com
This autumn, German composer Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Lohengrin takes the stage at SF Opera. In the four-hour epic, a woman framed for her brother’s disappearance makes an uncanny deal with a mysterious knight: He will rescue her from her fate, but only if she never learns his real identity. // Oct. 15 to Nov. 1 at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave. (Civic Center), sfopera.com
Harding Conducts The Planets
Renowned British conductor Daniel Harding joins the SF Symphony for three performances of composer Gustav Holt’s epic, Star Wars-esque ode to the solar system, The Planets. The moody symphony interprets the celestial bodies and their astrological character, characterizing Mars the Bringer of War with harmonic dissonance, Venus the Bringer of Peace with gentle syncopation, and Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity with exuberance and buoyancy. The program will also include the first SF Symphony staging of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge. // October 26-28 at Davies Symphony Hall; 201 Van Ness Ave. (Civic Center), sfsymphony.org
Celebrating 20 years of collaboration, the SFJAZZ Collective, an all-star ensemble of groundbreaking musicians, will perform a landmark program that both honors the group’s history and projects it into the future. Over four performances, the octet will revisit original compositions and arrangements, and debut a new suite dedicated to (and inspired by) the Collective’s last two decades. // Nov. 2-5 at SFJazz Miner Auditorium, 201 Franklin St. (Civic Center), sfjazz.org