Send in the Clowns Bluegrass band the Red Clay Ramblers play it straight, so to speak, as professional clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner ham it up in the comedy show Fool Moon. The American Conservatory Theater opens its 32nd season with these out-of-towners, although if we must be technical, Irwin performed on the streets of San Francisco back in the '70s and helped found our New Pickle Circus. Shiner, a fellow street performer, got his break with Cirque du Soleil, but he doesn't seem snooty about Irwin's stint at the less prestigious Ringling Brothers Clown College. While the Ramblers spin a musical narrative with Dixieland, gospel, and hip-hop overtones, Shiner and Irwin mine a rich vein of silent film comedy, mime, vaudeville, and physical theater, finding unspoken danger in curtains and cords, and turning viewers into performers. The show opens at 8 p.m. (and continues through Oct. 4) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $14-55; call 749-2228.
Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating in Space The future is now at the multimedia installation and performance vehicle "Projexpo 98: A Spaceport Resort." A phalanx of local artists transports viewers into a new dimension with familiar contemporary components, like Sharon Donahue and Tom Williams' Fembot, a sculptural female form whose body is comprised of wires and video monitors, or Larry Ackerman's Ether Chamber, an 8 by 8 foot acrylic cube housing a lone human inhabitant who takes on various guises, from minister to go-go dancer. Jeffrey Winter speculates on how space might look with The Ten-Forward Portals, a video projection offering shifting views of the galaxy through which the resort is traveling, augmented by environmental lighting by Jenny Bachoffner and interactive soundscapes by four contributors. Like most resorts, there will be entertainment, at the Thursday night "Man-Ray Electro-Cabaret," featuring music and performance art incorporating digital and analogue technology by Pamela Z., David Mills, and Amy X. Neuburg, among others. Friday nights are devoted to the "Late-Night Sci-Fi Film Series," and on Saturdays, the Knittles offer their world premiere rock opera Space Minstrals. The show, co-presented by media group Please Louise Productions and Museo Contempo, opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Sept. 26) at the Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Admission is $10; call 864-5453.
Uke It to Me The ukulele community suffered a near-fatal blow with the death of Tiny Tim, whose extensive catalog maximized that instrument's potential. But all is not lost as long as people like former Billboard Associate Publisher "Jumpin' " Jim Beloff are willing to quit their day jobs and devote themselves to uke music. Between his own performances, Beloff produced the recently released Rhino compilation Legends of Ukulele, which contains such nuggets as Tim's "Tip-Toe" and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's cover of "Johnny B. Goode." Beloff plays and signs copies of the CD at the "Beach Party Clambake," a surf-styled summer send-off with additional performances by punk rock ukulele duo Pineapple Princess, the famed Bacardi-breathing Aquamen, and Jumbo Shrimp, which boasts remnants of the Dead Kennedys. That's just the beginning, too: Look for hula girls, a limbo contest, s'mores on the barbie, and a uke jam. The fun begins at 9 p.m. at the Cocodrie, 1024 Kearny (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is $7; call 474-1391.
King, Hussain The Prix de Lausanne, an annual Swiss ballet competition open to dancers ages 15 to 18 who haven't gone pro yet, is ballet's nail-biting equivalent of the Olympics: Finalists, chosen from scores of international competitors, are judged on their performances of three solos, including standards from the classical repertoire, and winners can look forward to scholarship money and a solid foothold in the fiercely competitive professional world. Xavier Ferla, an '85 finalist, went on to dance with the highly esteemed Bejart company; this season, he joins San Francisco's Lines Contemporary Ballet, who open their fall concert with a world premiere ballet by choreographer Alonzo King. It's set to an original score created in collaboration with percussionist and classical tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, a regular accompanist to Indian musicians Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar. The show also includes the local premiere of Map, set to the music of Arvo Part, and opens at 8 p.m. (performances continue through Sept. 20) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $12-30; call 978-ARTS.
Delicious Dish Take recreational eating to the next level at the California Culinary Academy's Culinary Arts Street Fair, a two-day bash where tomorrow's master chefs pay their dues as today's food booth jockeys. It's educational and all -- guests can sit in on many of the academy's weekend classes, tour the facilities, and take notes at the hourly outdoor cooking demonstrations -- but the obvious draw is the tasting stations, where European, African, Asian, and American cuisine will be served. Bands perform live and kids can compete in an Easy-Bake Oven bake-off at the fair, which begins at 10 a.m. (also Sunday) along Polk Street between Eddy and Golden Gate and along Turk from Larkin to Van Ness, S.F. Admission is free; call 292-9300. And save room for dessert: The Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival, a benefit for Project Open Hand, will be serving truffles, brownies, cheesecake, chocolate-covered wontons, and chocolate pasta treats. Watch in admiration (or horror, depending on your perspective) as contestants in the "Earthquake" ice cream sundae-eating contest vie to win their weight in chocolate. It all begins at noon in Ghirardelli Square's Fountain Plaza and West Plaza, 900 North Point (at Polk), S.F. Chocolate-sampling tickets are $5 for five samples; call 775-5500.
Eat to the Beat More recreational eating opportunities, with great music and stuff to look at: Picnickers can spread out on the lawn as sopranos Janice Watson (this season's Arabella) and Susannah Glanville (Blanche in the upcoming A Streetcar Named Desire) sing arias throughout the afternoon at Opera in the Park, joined by baritones Rodney Gilfry and Franz Grundheber, among others. Donald Runnicles conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at the concert, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park, S.F. Admission is free; call 777-7770. On the other end of the musical scale, local rockabilly bands Blazing Haley and Rockin' Lloyd Trip & Zip Guns play the "Bottom of the Hill Barbecue and Hot Rod Car Show," with San Diego headliners Hot Rod Lincoln, a Deadbolt-like combo booked to play Slim's Greaseball festival next month. BOTH doorman Juito Brennan organized the hot rod event, which is expected to draw 30 to 60 souped-up autos and vintage bikes. The all-you-can-eat barbecue begins at 4 p.m. -- bands go on at 5:30 p.m. -- at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Admission is $5; call 621-4455.
African Head Charge Soukous singer Papa Wemba stars in La Vie Est Belle/Life Is Rosy, a rags-to-riches story about a Congo country musician; in Rocking Popenguine, rival circles of 1960s Senegalese youth pledge their allegiances to French and American pop culture; Dakan, a Guinean film about two male students who fall in love, is the first feature from sub-Saharan Africa to deal with homosexuality. These and 20 other films unspool through late October as the Pacific Film Archive celebrates California Newsreel's 30 years of breakthrough film distribution with recent selections from its Library of African Cinema. The series opens at 7 p.m. tonight with Taafe Fanga, a comic and poignant film from Mali in which male and female villagers exchange roles. All screenings take place in the PFA's George Gund Theater, Berkeley Art Museum, 2625 Durant, Berkeley. Admission is $6 for a single film, $7.50 for a double bill; call (510) 642-1412 for schedule information.
Buddhist Trappings Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker has inspired writers with novels like The Color Purple and activists with her nonfiction tome Anything We Love Can Be Saved -- but who inspires Walker? Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, for one. Walker has spoken glowingly of Chodron's teachings, which focus on the finer points of kindness; Chodron's own books, like Start Where You Are, present her perspective in depth. Among the subjects the pair are expected to discuss during an onstage conversation benefiting Buddhist group Shambhala International are Walker's first novel in six years, By the Light of My Father's Smile, and Chodron's primer When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, which the authors will autograph after the talk. It begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), S.F. Admission is $25-75; call 392-4400. Meanwhile, Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns and the Dalai Llama offer commentary in Free Tibet, a feature-length documentary of the Tibetan Freedom Concert held in Golden Gate Park two summers ago. Between sets from the Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, the Fugees, Pavement, Beck, and the Beastie Boys (whose Adam Yauch spearheaded the concert to benefit the Milarepa Fund), the film fills in the blanks on Tibetan history and the fundamentals of Buddhism. The screening begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bridge Theater, 3010 Geary (at Blake), S.F. Admission is $7.50 (proceeds go to the Milarepa Fund); call 352-0810.
This One Goes Up to 5 He's a ladies' man, that Lenny Kravitz. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant may have opened for him and former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash may have backed him up, but that's about as far as Kravitz's macho cred extends: After that, it's fields of daisies, faux fur collars, and big ol' velveteen flares. For every Hendrix-inspired wah-wah guitar solo and Curtis Mayfield hard-knock soul styling, Kravitz offers a breathy, tremulous ballad about standing by his woman or letting love rule, and let's face it, that's girl stuff. Kravitz slays 'em again with a birthday song to his daughter and an ode to his late mother on 5, his fifth release in nearly twice as many years. It's all fleshed out with female backup singers, horns, digital loops and samples, and old-fashioned Heineken-bottle percussion -- and he'll need all that if he doesn't want to be upstaged by the danceable Afro-Cuban/hip-hop hybrid of his opening act, L.A. party band Ozomatli. The show begins at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley Community Theater, 1930 Allston (at Grove), Berkeley. Admission is $27.50; call (510) 644-8957.