At a time when bringing people together has taken on a deeper significance, “In the Street” returns for its seventh year of bringing free theater to the streets of San Francisco.
While many Bay Area events have been canceled or delayed, “In the Street” will go on. This weekend more than 70 performers take to the streets namely, the 500 block of Ellis Street between Leavenworth and Hyde streets. The opening event will be indoors 5-11 p.m. Friday at the African-American Art and Culture Complex.
Not to be confused with the Fringe Festival, the 11-day flurry of independent theater productions, “In the Street” encompasses all the arts from martial arts to commissioned paintings.
The performances are free, but price is no correlation with quality especially with talent like Will Power on the bill. The Harlem-born, San Francisco-raised monologist’s one-man show, “The Gathering,” has had critics raving and audiences cheering.
But “free” also means Berkeley-based Zion I, described as “gender-bending” and “mystifying.” For free you get Tony Award winners like the San Francisco Mime Troupe (whose members do speak) or a demonstration from competition skateboarders such as Tony Trujillo and John Cardiel. And free means performances from the internationally acclaimed Chitresh Das Dance Company or the frenetic Carnival of Chaos that tosses together vaudeville, accordions and fire juggling.
The concept came about from Mr. Yoohoo, otherwise known as Moshe Cohen, who performs in Clowns Without Borders. Cohen liked to participate in street theater but couldn’t find it in his hometown of San Francisco. He joined forces with Amy Christian, director of the now New Mexico-based Wise Fool Community Arts, and Darryl Smith, Luggage Store/509 Cultural Center director, and the three deliberately chose the Tenderloin. The area is more known for its Vietnamese immigrants, derelicts and call girls, and it seems an unlikely stage for a place where reality intrudes so much.
Smith, who co-directs “In the Street,” says the arts community entrenched there is a natural source for performances. Mostly, though, the arts festival was ideal for the “marginalized neighborhood” as a way of “reclaiming the street in a positive way,” he says. Those who normally would not have access to high art would witness works from people like well-known choreographer Bill T. Jones, who appeared at the festival in 1999.
Despite the state of a nation emerging from attack, the decision to continue with the festival extends from its mission to unite residents and visitors together to celebrate what the human spirit can create.
“I talked to someone close to us who said he’s looking forward to the festival,” Smith says. “It’s a great place for people to gather and to be together and talk.”
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