Top Theater Picks at this Year's International Arts Festival

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 8 years old.
Ariel Luckey in Amnesia. (Photo by Pak Han)

The San Francisco International Arts Festival is back in full force this year with around 150 theater, dance and music performances all over Fort Mason Center, after lying low for a couple of years with only a few shows presented under the festival’s aegis. The theatrical offerings alone comprise about a dozen different shows from Poland, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland and right here in the Bay Area, celebrating the rich international heritage of our own community. You’ll want to check out the full schedule at, but here are a few picks to get you started.

Compagnie Artara's La Chagrin des Ogres. (Photo: Courtesy of SFIAF)
Compagnie Artara's La Chagrin des Ogres. (Courtesy of the SFIAF)

La Chagrin des Ogres

May 21–23
Cowell Theater
Tickets and information

Belgium’s Compagnie Artara makes its U.S. debut with La Chagrin des Ogres (The Sorrow of the Ogres), a spellbinding French-language multimedia performance piece by writer-director Fabrice Murgia that offers a deeply disturbing portrait of modern teen life inspired by the true stories of two teenagers: in 2006, German 18-year-old Sebastian Bosse wounded five before killing himself in a school shooting, and Austrian 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch escaped the cellar where her kidnapper held her for the previous eight years.

Eth-No-Tec's Red Altar. (Courtesy of the SFIAF)
Eth-No-Tec's Red Altar. (Courtesy of the SFIAF)

Red Altar

May 23–24
Southside Theater
Tickets and information

San Francisco’s own Eth-No-Tec specializes in a mix of choreography and storytelling steeped in Asian folklore. In Red Altar, company founders Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo perform the story of six Chinese teenagers who crash their junk boat into Carmel Bay in 1850 and are rescued by natives of the Rumsen and Esselen tribes. This “kinetic storytelling” piece celebrates the Chinese immigrants who endured racism and persecution to found the fishing industry in the Monterey Bay region.

Simona Sala in Teatr Zar's Armine, Sister. (Photo: Irena Lipińska)
Simona Sala in Teatr Zar's Armine, Sister. (Photo by Irena Lipińska)

Armine, Sister

May 24–30
Herbst Pavilion
Tickets and information

Poland’s Teatr ZAR has haunted the festival before with its dreamlike blend of movement and polyphonic singing, but now the company is exploring work more explicitly grounded in social conscience. Armine, Sister focuses on the Armenian Genocide on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, particularly drawing attention to the complicit silence of the international community around the near-extermination of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Ariel Luckey in Amnesia. (Photo: Bethanie Hines)
Ariel Luckey in Amnesia. (Photo by Bethanie Hines)


May 28–31
Southside Theater
Tickets and information

Oakland native Ariel Luckey brings us his solo show about a young man tracing his immigrant family’s journey from an Eastern European shtetl to Phoenix, Arizona and unearthing the violence they’ve tried to forget. Through theater, dance and spoken word, Luckey ties anti-Jewish persecution in the old country in with anti-immigrant sentiment in the New World, with a dynamic score by Lila Sklar bringing together klezmer, hip hop and Mexican folk music.

devorah major. (Photo by Malaika H. Kambon)
devorah major. (Photo by Malaika H. Kambon)

Classic Black

June 4–7
Southside Theater
Tickets and information

Former San Francisco poet laureate devorah major brings us a fascinating glimpse at the lives of African Americans in S.F. before the Civil War in a series of poems and stories about individuals such as entrepreneur and Underground Railroad supporter Mary Ellen Pleasant, prominent political player George Washington Dennis and escaped slave Archy Lee. In this world premiere production directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, major and Brian Freeman perform these historical portraits with a musical boost from the Destiny Muhammad Trio.