The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.

Kina Kantor stars in San Francisco Mime Troupe’s free summer production “Breakdown,” playing at parks in the Bay Area through Sept. 4. (David Allen Studio/San Francisco Mime Troupe)

Freebie of the week: Let’s get one thing straight about the San Francisco Mime Troupe right off the bat. These people talk. They are not performers who skitter silently about wearing too much eye makeup and pretending to be trapped in some kind of invisible cage when it’s perfectly obvious there’s no cage at all. We have no intention of joining the longstanding debate over whether these kinds of mimes are hilarious or just kind of creepy, because the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which has been around for more than 60 years, is a different animal entirely. As the company’s website says, “We use the term mime in its classical and original definition, ‘The exaggeration of daily life in story and song.’” More specifically, the troupe uses silly songs and jokes as the foundation for its particular—i.e., decidedly left of center—brand of political theater. It’s one of the Bay Area’s grand theatrical traditions that the Troupe each summer unveils a topical new play that is presented in parks and outdoor venues around the region for free. This year’s show, titled “Breakdown,” written by Michael Gene Sullivan and Marie Cartier, with music and lyrics by Daniel Savio, focuses on a San Francisco homeless woman who is plucked from obscurity by a Fox News personality who aims to exploit her as a symbol for all the ways liberal governments fail their people. The show opens Saturday at Cedar Rose Park in Berkeley and plays throughout the Bay Area through Sept. 4. All shows are free. More information is at

More free music: The Bay Area already has a bounty of places and concert series at which to hear free tunes. Here’s another, kicking off this week. Titled Summer Sounds (you try coming up with an original name for these things!), the series kicks off Thursday late afternoon at the Rudney Plaza outside of Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. And what a kickoff. Holding forth will be the powerhouse blues/soul/R&B/jazz vocalist Terrie Odabi performing with San Francisco guitarist Anthony Paule and his Soul Orchestra. Odabi and Paule—a nimble player who specializes in the fertile soul/blues/rock sounds of the ‘60 and ‘70s—have performed together often over the years and can be counted on to deliver a tight, high-energy show. The Summer Sounds series continues with the world music band Wobby World (July 6); the widely acclaimed Cajun rock fiddler Tom Rigney and his band Flambeau (July 13)l and the two-time Grammy-winning violinist Mads Tolling —who can seemingly handle any genre you throw at him—and his band the Mads Men (July 20). Concerts run 5:30 to 7 p.m. and are free. More information is at

Nick DiGiovanni will be in San Francisco to promote his new cookbook. (Courtesy Amazon)

One hot chef: Pssst: Wanna know how to make your own super-fragrant, super delicious vanilla extract that takes next to no skill and will last you forever? Show up at Book Passage’s Ferry Building store in San Francisco at 1 p.m. Friday to check out sexy celebrity chef Nick DiGiovanni’s presentation on his just-released new cookbook, “Knife Drop” (DK, $35, 256 pages). With a foreword by Great Britain’s Gordon Ramsay (on whose “Master Chef” show 27-year-old DiGiovanni competed as the youngest contestant in 2019), the book, subtitled “Creative Recipes Anyone Can Cook,” kicks off with a chapter on Kitchen Basics and winds up a couple of hundred pages later with “Recipes From My Friends.” The young author, who is now a Tik Tok, Instagram and Youtube sensation, dispenses dozens of helpful tips and hacks that will delight kitchen amateurs and professionals alike. Try this one out, for example: DiGiovanni swears that if you put a slice of bread in your mouth while slicing onions, you will shed NO tears. He also includes an allotment of QR codes that will take you to video tutorials on things as varied as making a piping bag and the proper way to hold a chef’s knife. His event is $40, which includes a copy of the book. Sign up at

San Francisco Symphony Collaborative Partner Julia Bullock will be performing songs by Margaret Bond and George Gershwin with the orchestra this weekend. (Courtesy Allison Michael Orenstein)

 A season finale: San Francisco Symphony conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen teams up with the superb soprano Julia Bullock, one of his eight hand-selected Collaborative Partners, to bring the 2022-23 season to a close this weekend with a program of 20th century songs by George Gershwin and Margaret Bonds. The concerts open with the symphony’s first performance of Reena Esmail’s “Black Iris,” which takes its name from the famed Georgia O’Keeffe painting, and concludes with Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe,” featuring the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. In between, Bullock will sing Gershwin’s “Somebody from Somewhere,” “Summertime” and “Soon” and Bond’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Winter Moon.” Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Davies Hall. Tickets, $40-$170, are available at or by calling (415) 864-6000. 

Ari’el Stachel performs “Out of Character,” his solo show about being Middle Eastern, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through July 30. (Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

Hidden identity: Actor Ari’el Stachel grew up in Berkeley, the kind of place known for embracing all kinds of people and all walks of life. But like many Americans, Stachel, who describes himself as an Israeli American of Yemeni-Jewish descent, was thrown into a new and troubling landscape after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At that point, many Americans were unfairly lumped into a single “Middle Eastern” label and viewed with suspicion. Now Stachel is back in Berkeley to perform his solo show, “Out of Character,” which recounts his post-9/11 life. Stachel has said he was forced into a years-long ordeal of hiding or minimizing his ethnic background, alternating between cultural identities, getting adept at code-switching and doing as much as he could to camouflage who he really was and what his background represented. Ironically, that is something an actor does all the time – but for roles, not survival. Stachel, who won a Tony Award for best featured performance for his starring role in “The Band’s Visit” on Broadway, is performing “Out of Character,” described as a “tour de force comedy about what it means to belong in America,” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through July 30. He developed the play as part of Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor program. Tickets are $24-$119. Go to

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