Circus Acts at Old Chinatown Theatre

tree of smoke circus

I went to a charming, inspiring, wonderful local theatre show over the weekend in a fascinating old theatre in Chinatown that I’d never even noticed before. It was lovely.

In the Tree of Smoke

In the Tree of Smoke from elndzvastieree on Vimeo.

The show is called In The Tree of Smoke. The performances offer a terrific combination of aerial dance, crazy contortionist displays, clowning and an almost-burlesque edge. It’s a two-hour show with a brief intermission and it consists of about a dozen independent little performances that all merge together to present the idea that beauty and art and creativity can thrive even when money is lacking.

tree of smoke

The show began with a beautiful shadow dance behind a screen. Some of my favorite things were:

  • The aerial ribbon dance as well as the aerial hoop dance … I just find the aerial dances to be so mesmerizing.
  • Straightforward displays of shocking contortionist moves. Several performers showed that bodies can do amazingly strange things with very few props or other effects. Amazing.
  • A skit that suggests that it’s better to be creative than to sit around wasting leisure time on TV watching.

At the beginning of the show and the post-intermission beginning there was a period of video on the screen that I have to confess I didn’t get into at all. I couldn’t quite make the artistic connection between the video and the performance. It wasn’t bad or anything but it didn’t do anything for me either. That was the only part of the performance that I wasn’t particularly into, though, and the rest of it completely made up for that. It’s beautiful, fun, unique and very San Francisco.

Great Star Theatre

great star theater

I used to live in North Beach and walked through Chinatown all of the time, so I’m sure I must have passed The Great Star Theatre many times, but I never noticed it before. It reminded me a tiny bit of Castro Theatre, just in the old-fashioned cinema building kind of way. It was curious and intriguing, and I decided to see what I could find out about it online.

I found a 2010 SF Gate article that explains that the theatre had been closed for twelve years but was re-opened that year. It “is the last Chinese theater in any Chinatown in the U.S.” reports that it opened in 1925 as Great China Theatre and then the name changed in 1960.

great star theatre

There isn’t a whole lot of information about the theatre online. However, it apparently gets mentioned in a documentary called A Moment in Time, which is “about the experience of the Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown, told through the films they loved.”

A variety of different things seem to have been hosted in the theatre since it re-opened from films to comedy. The Indiegogo page for the show I went to says “In The Tree Of Smoke will serve as the premiere launch into a new age of performance art in this revitalized 1920’s era theater and as a platform for local artists to display their hard won mastery of skills and speak in a unique and powerful voice through performance art.” I’m not sure if Circus Automatic will continue doing shows there or not, but I do know that this one runs through the end of June.

Circus Automatic

circus automatic

Circus Automatic was the name of the troupe that put together this performance. They also had some guest performers as part of the show.

circus actFleeky Flanco

katie scarlett dance

Katie Scarlett

chloe marvel light axelrod

Chloe Marvel Light Axelrod

Breonna Noack

Bree Rock

arrow contortionist

Inka Siefker who was also in the beautiful Okeanos performance done by Capacitor that I went to awhile back at the Pier 39 aquarium. Micah Walters, also part of that show, was in this new show as well.

Each of these performers is really professional and clearly dedicated to his/ her art. They each have a unique style – from quirky to funny to sexy to fluid. Their bodies are amazing, their costumes enhance their acts and they all perform in various places around the city so keep an eye out for them.

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