Campo Santo is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, a significant milestone for any small theater company. But this one really does have something to celebrate. The past decade has been an intense, vibrant, unconventionally structured experiment in multicultural communal theater that's not your typical "community theater," but an ambitious undertaking that takes seriously both its own immediate community and the various communities making up society at large. Along the way, it's consistently produced by far some of the most exciting and risk-taking productions around. And with more than 30 world premieres to its credit as the resident company at Intersection for the Arts (San Francisco's premier multidisciplinary alternative arts organization), it's fair to say Campo Santo's output has been nothing short of awesome.
But Campo Santo + Intersection is more than the sum of its production history, as anyone who goes to a performance knows. Not just situated in the Mission District but very much a part of it — it's a place, a space, an environment, a neighborhood, and to many, precisely the hallowed ground the company's name implies. With a loose and flexible network of individuals and groups capable of supporting and elaborating on each other's artistic and social work — as well as an atypically astute and diverse audience — Campo Santo and Intersection's personnel, setting, and semipublic work process all contribute to making it a conspicuously unique site on the theatrical landscape.
There's probably no more ready proof of that, or the success of its formula, than the willingness of so many nationally prominent playwrights to repeatedly collaborate with Campo Santo on new work — a list that includes Naomi Iizuka, John Steppling, Greg Sarris, Jessica Hagedorn, Erin Cressida Wilson, Philip Kan Gotanda, and Octavio Sol??s. It's even famously coaxed the first stage works out of well-established writers and poets like Jimmy Santiago Baca, Dave Eggers, and Denis Johnson.
The series of events marking Campo Santo's 10th anniversary — from workshops, open discussions, and staged rereadings of past productions with the playwrights to a major blowout planned for June 3 — comes as a rare opportunity for company and audience to reflect on a decade of feverish, often brilliant work that has always looked restlessly ahead, as if to the next fix.
The retrospective has been something of a revelation to the company's members and associates, judging by the rapt discussion that followed a rehearsal last week for the Denis Johnson program.