Interview with Sean San José about mixing Junot Diaz and the streets of San Francisco in “Block by Block”

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 the writings of author Junot Díaz and follows 2009’s multi-extended, sold-out world premiere production of Fuku Americanus, created from Díaz’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Block by Block brings back to the stage Díaz’s wild and beautiful voice, with the rawness of his characters and this world in which we live. The story is rooted in the New Jersey Dominican life, but Sean San José, theater director for Campo Santo, has adapted Diaz’s writings to life in our city, bringing a San Francisco block party to the de Young with dance, mixed media, and live music—mixing beat-boxing, spoken-word movement,battles and more—along with projected visuals.

Audiences will be taken on a journey through San Francisco, block by block. With choreographed, immediate, and purposeful performances, visit six neighborhoods of the city. Experience dj battles with Felonious, dance battles 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 Diaz with the Campo Santo Street Team and DJ Wonway, and Susie Lundy and will transport you from Fillmore to the Mission with Subway Strutting to Carnaval. Experience downtown, Fillmore, Excelsior, Hunter’s Point, the Mission, and Castro. See a preview here!

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

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

Sean San  Jose Sean San Jose. Photo by Adrian Arias

Why did you decide to work with the writings of Junot Díaz again? 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 base 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 your 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 reflect the City?

We wanted to reflect the scope physically and culturally that the de Young represents, with a directness and intimacy that also has the punch and expanse of a parade.

What happens on the concrete streets is what’s exciting. You could focus, intimately, on a boom-box, street battle, dance battle, storytelling around music, to something as expansive and elaborate as a Carnaval parade. On the street, dance battles become spectacles. They’re a cultural communing, an art form and a performance. You can create, participate or watch as a spectator. These neighborhood rituals are valid and exciting, and as great as a painting by a visual artist or a jazz composition. I think that these things deserve a place in the museum, too.

The concrete streets are full of possibilities. We thought about what performative communal gathering have art forms in them and who does that in exceptional ways. This led to the mediums, and that led us to the artists.

What areas of San Francisco are covered, and why?

Those folks [the performers] dictated what neighborhoods are included by what interested and sparked them. Susie Lundy is great at a diversity of dance and immediately brought in the idea of moving from Fillmore Strutters to the Mission (with Carnaval).We’re bringing together these major cultural institutions, like the museum does with programs and pushing into that idea even further.

We thought about what neighborhoods don’t get a lot of representation in the museum, like the Fillmore, and what art forms there are in San Francisco, like the murals that are in the Mission. So there was an organic flow, a shape to the story.


Sean San José is program director of theatre 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 next week 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. More information

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