The Great Star Theater non profit corporation
In September of 2015 Paul Nathan, Jordan Nathan, Ken Newman, Paul Spiegel, and John Cervelli formed the Great Star Theater not for profit corporation with the simple goal of keeping the venue available for the community to use as a theater. With venues in San Francisco under constant threat of closure and developers attempting to repurpose art houses it is more important then ever to preserve the few remaining live theater spaces that we have.  The Great Star Theater is Chinatown’s only remaining theater (live theater or cinema house). It’s unique history and charming character are an important asset to the community.

Since we took stewardship of the venue in September of 2015 we have made great strides in keeping the venue clean, safe, usable, and filled with art. Including installing a theatrical lighting system, sounds system, cinema video projector and upgrading the plumbing. Working with the City of San Francisco and the mayor’s office we have repaired a zoning issue which has plagued the venue for nearly a half century and we are embarking on exciting plans to ensure the future of the venue as a home for Chinese Opera as well as community theater and events for the foreseeable future.

For more information please contact our Managing Director, Paul Nathan 415 407-9223 or at paul@greatstartheater.org


Our Story

Built in 1925, as The Great China Theater has been home to Chinese Opera for the past ninety years.  In 1940 A projection booth was added and films began showing as was the case with many live theaters. The name changed to Great Star Theater and by 1970 the facade had been transofmred from a traditional pagoda motif to a modern cinema marquee. In the late seventies The Great Star was one of six US theaters purchased by Run Run Shaw so he could run films original language films to the Mandarin and Cantonese speakers here in the West. In 1999 the theater went dark with the exception of Chinese Operas, which ran a few times a year. Disuse turned to decay until Paul Nathan formed The Great Star Theater non profit corporation to refurbish the building and ensure that it became a useful part of San Francisco’s cultural landscape. 

Currently the theater runs a robust and diverse program of Chinese Opera, western musicals, circus, cabaret, and cinema. 

Early History

Since The Great China Theater opened it’s doors in 1925 she has always been a place for theater, art, and community.  In the early years of the theater most of the Chinese American population was illiterate. While westerners got most of their history, cultural identity, and ethics from the church, Chinese American’s spent hours each week watching morality tales play out on stage complete with many of the same sorts of archetypical characters that one would see in a Comedia del arte play or even a Shakespearian drama. Soldiers, exemplified qualities of bravery and loyalty, Love stories play out complete with cautionary tales of the perils of infidelity. Here at the Great Star guests would watch thousand year old stories unfold in four hour long improvised sketches complete with contemporary news thrown in to keep them up to date with the latest happenings in Canton and locally in San Francisco. The theater was a gathering place, a community center, as well as a cultural and civic hub for a part of the community that lived an insular life outside of the half square mile of Chinatown. 

Back Drop

Chinese painter, Xu FengBo created the tin backdrop and the fire curtain that adorns the theater. The backdrop includes many images that are part of the character and history of Chinese Opera. The Iron Curtain is an image of the LeiFeng Pagoda), made famous by the story of Lady White Snake.  A basic love story with a Buddhist monk as the bad guy so it is an anti Buddhist (religious) story.  It has love, betrayal, separation, fighting, and redemption - all the elements for a very popular Chinese opera. 

Great Star Theater circa 1930 Notice the symbol on the top center of the perineum. That is the symbol of KuoMinTang (Chinese Nationalist Party):  The KuoMinTang were the main sponsors of the theater in its early days.  Around the corner the rival political party opened The Mandarin Theater. Plays presented at this time contained not just morality and historical messages but also a great deal of political propaganda. 

Great Star Theater circa 1930

Notice the symbol on the top center of the perineum. That is the symbol of KuoMinTang (Chinese Nationalist Party): 

The KuoMinTang were the main sponsors of the theater in its early days.  Around the corner the rival political party opened The Mandarin Theater. Plays presented at this time contained not just morality and historical messages but also a great deal of political propaganda. 

Chinese Opera

Box office notes from Great Star Theater 1992

Box office notes from Great Star Theater 1992

San Francisco remains the biggest hub for Chinese Opera outside of China and The Great Star Theater is San Francisco’s home to Chinese Opera, especially Cantonese Opera. Top stars from around the world have played our stage including many of today’s top opera singers, actors, and acrobats. 

 
 

Please, do what you can to keep the arts in San Francisco alive and support local art and venues.