Remixing San Francisco: An Interview with Director of "Block by Block," Sean San José

Campo Santo, de Young Artist Fellow and award-winning resident theater company of Intersection for the Arts premieres Block by Block: The Pura Principle, its newest theatrical work, in the de Young's Koret Auditorium on November 17, 18, and 19. The performance is based on recent short stories and original writings by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.

Block by Block brings back to the stage Díaz’s wild and beautiful voice. Sean San José, theater director for Campo Santo, has adapted Diaz’s writings to life in our city, bringing a multimedia San Francisco block party to the de Young.

Audiences will be taken on a journey through San Francisco, block by block. Actors, dancers, and musicians interpret six neighborhoods–downtown, the Fillmore, the Excelsior, Hunters Point, the Mission, and the Castro–in vignettes reflecting the unique rituals found in each of these culturally rich neighborhoods. Experience DJ battles with Felonious; dance-offs with Nicole Klaymoon and the Embodiment Project; the murals of the Mission with projected visuals created by acclaimed artists Favianna Rodriguez, Evan Bissell, and Ricardo Richey; the urban life and writings of Junot Díaz with the Campo Santo Street Team and DJ Wonway; and Susie Lund, who transports you with Subway Strutting to Carnaval.

Watch a preview here.

How did we arrive at this place? We spoke with director Sean San José to take a deeper look at the inspiration and creative process behind Block by Block.

Sean San  Jose

Photo by Adrian Arias

Why did you decide to work with the writings of Junot Díaz? How did you make the connection to San Francisco?

The idea was to start with a strong story with direct, bold and complicated questions at the foundation of whatever we did. Junot Díaz has a way of telling stories that is interior and personal but also declarative in a way that makes one's own family history almost epic.

Choosing Díaz was about this opportunity offered by the de Young and the strength of what the de Young is and represents. What could reflect the de Young as a landmark—historically, artistically, and culturally? We wanted to make a performance that responds to that, and we really wanted to reflect the spirit of Friday Nights and the Cultural Encounters program. We wanted to populate this landmark with people from the city.

How did you decide which performances to bring in, and how do they correspond with this city?

What happens outside on the concrete streets is what excites us. We tried to focus in on something as intimate as a boom-box or storytelling around music, to something as expansive and elaborate as a Carnaval parade. Neighborhood rituals, like dance or beat-box battles, become spectacles and are as valid and exciting as a painting by a visual artist or a jazz composition. I think that these things deserve a place in the museum, too. They’re a cultural communing, a performance and an art form.

What areas of San Francisco are covered and why?

The performers dictated what neighborhoods were included by what interested and sparked them. For example, Susie Lundy deals with a great diversity of dance and immediately brought in the idea of moving from the Fillmore to the Mission through the lens of the Fillmore Strutters to the Mission's Carnaval. We’re bringing together these major cultural institutions specific to each neighborhood–like the museum does with programs–and pushing that idea out, or actually, pushing in even further. We tried to highlight neighborhoods that may not be represented in the museum, like the Fillmore, and art forms specific to San Francisco, like the murals in the Mission. So there was an organic flow, a shape to the story.

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What to see

  • 4:30 p.m. The journey begins with pop-up performances in select spots in the de Young
  • 6:00 p.m. Enjoy a free drink (with ticket) and mingle with the performers at our pre-show reception
  • 7:00 p.m. The show begins in the Koret Auditorium

Sean San José is program director of theater for Intersection for the Arts and cofounder of Campo Santo, as well as the director of Block by Block.

Block by Block is limited to three showings only. Purchase your tickets or join us on Facebook for a chance to win free tickets. 

Because of the generous support received by The Irvine Foundation to cover production related costs, 100 percent of your ticket purchase goes directly to the artists involved in the process of creating the artwork. $20 general in advance ($25 at the door), $12 students, $10 members.