The Real World, Theater Edition: A Conversation with True Heroes, Sean San José and Donald Lacy

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Sean San José and Donald Lacy.

I sat down with Sean San José and Donald Lacy about “Superheroes” to talk about the newest Campo Santo show, “Superheroes” written and directed by Sean San José and featuring Donald Lacy. “Superheroes” is a poetic look at the crack epidemic by using the research of Gary Webb and the real lives of people affected by this drug, and how the government is implicated in the utter decimation of black and brown communities that still continues to this day in policies and procedures regarding racial profiling, police and government misconduct, the prison industrial complex, not to mention the thousands of families that have been destroyed by it.

I am completely biased since I learned how to be in theater from Campo Santo. Their productions have always stood out as able to probe deep into societal injustices and present them in a way – along with the stories of real people and experiences – to create something incredibly moving and powerful. I talked to Sean and Donald about the process of creating this work, lessons learned along the way, and artists who have been heroes to us over time.

This conversation was especially poignant to me considering my time spent learning from people who I consider to be some of my most staunch mentors and advocates. To have a conversation with my own personal heroes describe their heroes in turn was an incredible experience. The transcript of our conversation follows.

BABS: I was curious about your process for creating “Superheroes” and connected to that what does it mean to be a Campo Santo production – Is that a kind of style, a philosophy, an approach or aesthetic? And then how does Cutting Ball get wrapped into the development process and why were they the right partner?

SSJ: Those are great questions, Barb. I think starting with the last one and I could probably handle this one. I guess to go backwards a little bit, this was an idea that was really a matter of the world speaking loudly enough and I felt like even without the wherewithal, the tools even, or the story, it was something I had to respond to. I feel like in some way all my stuff that I’m really interested in doing at the end of the day responds in some way to the two epidemics: AIDS and crack.

The funny thing, or the difficult thing, with crack is that maybe it’s too close or maybe I’ve tricked myself well enough like the rest of the country has, to not deal with it in a direct way. So I’ve always felt there was something in there and I think the media’s taken to it so fully, it’s hard to even decipher real life and, sort of, cartoon life. In other words, The Wire, passes as not like a good piece of TV, but somehow passes as very similar to like a version of journalism, which is not anything against The Wire, which I’m a fan of, but it brings a question to me of what does that say about our journalism or lack thereof any longer in the United States. And more than that, what does it say about us as a country responding to an epidemic that we’re living and dying through. So all that to say – I had never had an idea to do this.

I went out to Oakland when Donald was doing a live remote at the Jahva House when the Wiggins brothers used to have that place over there off the lake in Oakland and I was just going because Donald’s show, you know, like me, Barb, big fans of the show, just because it’s a great show and then to see it live was interesting. Gary Webb was on that particular day and he did probably 30-45 minutes-

D.LACY: 52.

SSJ: Yeah, a good healthy discussion with Donald. I had read one of the articles and then I had the book and so that was really deep in my head – like deep layered in me. Hearing him speak and the way – the combination of Donald speaking with him unconsciously sort of set the idea for the piece. It took me a long time to get to it. But, what it did was it gave you the facts and then it gave you a living sort of aftermath. So the facts are Gary Webb and then Donald responding as an active, civic member of the society, saying, “Well, yes… And still, and yet, here we are dealing with it all”.

There’s something about watching Gary Webb do it that sparked an idea to do it. It’s this weird thing again about journalism, about truth-telling, is that it took someone objectively speaking on it and just laying out the facts and the story – not that he was not vested in it, but he was not impassioned in it in the same way that maybe Donald or I might be. Hearing it that way- it was done with quietude, but an integrity, that actually made it starker – the facts of it, if that makes sense.

When I read it, someone had passed the article – the two articles – around. And all we- it was like inflammatory. I bet the article got ripped up by the third person who it got passed to. So you just go… Or, me, I just go from zero to one thousand when I read those facts. It’s so upsetting. It’s so… incendiary. And then hearing Gary Webb, this Pulitzer Prize winning journalist just lay it out and he just was… So that there could be no time to sort of filibuster like they do to us all the time and sorta say, “Well, that’s because you did that” and “You’re interested.” “Your vested interests this that and the other…” It was a guy that said, “You know, I’m not from here. I had no – I didn’t even set out to tell this tale. I did what a journalist does. I followed the trail and I uncovered the facts.”

So hearing that in sort of the context of “Wake Up Everybody” show, sort of laid it all out. But I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I just said to Donald after the show, “We gotta tell this story on stage” because, you know, like us, all three of us, that’s what we do, we tell stories on stage. But in getting involved in doing that, it took a long time to realize on a practical level, it’s really hard to do. There’s a lot of facts. It’s really hard to follow. But the more I spent time with it, the more I realized what Gary Webb had done was a reality. It was facts. It was published. It was confirmed, so what would I be doing by re-telling a version of this story? And what I realized was, what stuck with me was this story that given this reality, this confirmation of this horror, we were still living in it. Yet, we as a society hadn’t responded to it, so that’s what it became about. So, it’s really less about showing that connection, but showing what has happened since that connection.

And you know, I had a very early – I wouldn’t even call it a draft. I had a series of images and pages, as I often do, and I read it like solo for Donald and we got really deep in it and Donald is probably one of the bigger champions of Gary Webb, but interestingly Donald’s response – and this really broke it open – was now we have to show the lives that have been lost through this. Not the lives that are told in the Dark Alliance book that should be accounted for, but the lives that were surrounded by it. The spirits, the ghosts of the people that have lost, or the people struggling still, and that sort of cracked it open. It was like, oh right, it’s not “Dark Alliance – The Play”, it’s a response to the facts of Dark Alliance and us living in the aftermath of it.

So that’s a long way of saying that’s how all that happened. But that’s really how all of the things happen, right? Meaning that it’s a mixtured response of responding to the world around us and this just happened to be heavily weighted because it has really direct geo-political connections to it, like these massive, horrible, nefarious – all these words that you would never use in everyday life – are now come to light because of this horrible truth that he’s revealed. And I think that makes it a Campo Santo show in that way. In that we set out to tell some of the many untold stories and always try to be reflective of the world we live in. And what could be more reflective of the world we live in than responding to two epidemics we’re living through?

What was very interesting about getting together with Cutting Ball is that it was never something like I pitched or something. I had this thing in the cut. Me and Donald heard it. And that was about it. You know, that was kinda it. It took me a long time. It wasn’t even like, “Here’s the next Campo Santo play. Llet’s develop this.” It was more just something that ate at me a lot. This idea that we, as a society, hadn’t responded to it yet, and I needed to find a way for myself spiritually, personally, to respond in some way to the epidemic of crack.

And then Rob Melose had asked me. He said, “Do you want to do something here?” And I was like, “Yeah, no.” Meaning “Yeah, I do,” but “No, I don’t really know how to do things like their plays.”

D.LACY: Perfect place, right?

SSJ: I love the boldness. I love their experimentation. I love that integrity they have, but it’s not a thing that my tools set is like, “Number one, two, three,” so I was like, “Not really, to be honest. Yes, I want to do something with you guys, but I don’t know what that would be because we only do new things.” And he was like, “Well, what new thing?” And then I just sort of thought, “Well, why do something that’s sort of like midstream in development with Campo Santo. Here’s this thing.”

And it was actually Ben Fisher… I was like Ben “What do you think? Would this be interesting?” And he was like, “I think it would be the time and the place to have someone else sort of take it on”. And then when we all got over here, it just became- it was too… it would be as if, you know… Something else was at work, you know. That we’re doing a play responding to the daily lives of the crack epidemic and we’re on Taylor Street right here and so if we as a group say, “We’re trying to put the audience to the test, to the task of dealing with this,” we have to do that every single day we walk to rehearsal. It’s really right out the door every day. So that’s was a beautiful and real thing that had to happen and that’s how it happened, but Donald’s really kind of the heart of the thing.

D.LACY: Sure, buddy. You know something, man? I just realized something.

SSJ: Say what now.

D. LACY: I just realized from 2004 to when the piece was conceived in 2006. When we went up to the trees and when we did Hamlet about the crack shit that was all the-

SSJ: Yeah! I agree.

D. LACY: -that was all the grist for your mill-

SSJ: I agree.

D. LACY: To get to them spirits. I just- It had never occurred to me. We were subconsciously doing a part of this story then through that whole Hamlet process.

SSJ: Yeah, pretty much.

BABS: That’s so interesting.

D. LACY: And then hearing about Dr. Pamela and all the- And it just hit me. Wow! We were in this back then and didn’t even know it.

SSJ: Yeah, yeah. And the fact that one point after- This just sort of nerd stuff…

BABS: No, that’s what- We can… So just so you know too about the… I will print all of the worlds, not like editing it down. All of them.

D. LACY: Oh, shit!

BABS: So it really is just like a- We can go as-

D. LACY: Well, in that case tell that mothafucka I want my money!

SSJ: Yeah, I heard that. No, but after we did Blood in the Brain, I was talking with Naomi Iizuka and I was just so… You know. You come out of a project and you immediately want to stay coupled with those people. And I think for us a lot of times, I think it’s like – especially when we work with writers – like, as one is starting to hit its zenith my producer/development brain is always like, “Let’s do the next one!” I get so excited working with these people, you know, I was like, “We have to do something, Naomi. We have to do something and she was like, “Yeah.” You know, Naomi’s so cool and so down.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: She was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “I’m sort of sifting through a bunch of stories now. Why don’t you throw something at me.” You know, because we worked together in a really cool way on Blood in the Brain. That was really very instrumental in the way I tell stories and the way I collaborate with people. The way she both empowered me and collaborated with me throughout, but then I was like, “Yeah…”

There was this one book that she and I had always liked a lot and we were like, “Maybe we should do that book…” And then I said, “Hey, there’s this thing I’m really trippin on. This Dark Alliance. It’s based on this. And, you know, out of a series of six, she was like, “Those are really interesting”. She goes, “You know that thing about the CIA thing…” She was like, “that’s the one,” but she was like, “But I can’t do that. We just did Blood in the Brain. I can’t… Like that was hard enough to enter a world that’s not my world and that doesn’t feel like solid ground for me. Let’s think of another thing.”

BABS: Interesting.

SSJ: And so I was like, “Okay,” and then it made a lot of sense to me and I was like, “Okay, okay, that makes sense. I’ll just kinda mess with this on my own.” It was sort of a further… It ended up being a helpful step. But it was further for me to go, “Oh, okay, I’ll pull this one back to my desk and just kinda poke at it and see what comes out.”

BABS: That is interesting, just to hear the- you know, how Naomi informed your process too.

SSJ: Yeah, I mean Naomi did a great thing when we did Blood in the Brain. I mean a lot of times we would just riff on – She’s so smart so it’s like kinda once in a lifetime type stuff, but she would say, “What would two people say in a situation that’s like this?” So she would sorta set the stakes for you, and I could like put it in the context of what we were dealing with.

I think what Donald said was right. That was almost like either sharpening the tools or however you want to say it. Sowing the seeds to get closer to this thing. I think what was helpful for that, you know an interesting process in that Blood in the Brain was that we were taking something that seemed so, for me, in a lot of ways, out of reach and really kind of disconnected. In that we were sort of taking themes from Hamlet and placing them in a world that we – me, Donald, Tommy, and-

BABS: Ryan, Ricky…

SSJ: Yeah, Rick and Ryan and others and Margo, of course, were dealing with in the play. And Joy Meads, that was the big key in that one, connecting to the real world. But the idea that you could take big themes – I still think we have this idea that “big themes” are for “big theaters” or for “white theaters” or there’s “white themes” and we have “different themes” or our themes are “different” and they’re “smaller”, and subsequently- but obviously that’s not true.

And there was something great in that process of Blood in the Brain is that we were taking- I mean we were actually taking the themes from Shakespeare, regarded the greatest dramatic writer there is, taking that and placing him in our world. And in doing so, it gives you a sense of the scale of your lives, of people’s lives. You go, “Right, we struggle. We love. We fight. We wonder. We wrestle with the same – not only the same issues, but the same scale. The same urgency. The same need.”

And I know that sounds a little simplistic, especially for a group like Campo Santo or whatever. We’ve been doing this since 1996 so we understand the need and obviously the nobility in our people’s stories, but that was a different kind of affirmation, I think. I think because it was something so close to the world for me. Like, “Well, describe East 14th Street,” and you know. That kind of – now I think it’s very in vogue in the theater world to say like, “we’re doing a documentary play.” I don’t even know what the fuck that means really, to tell you the truth. Like, what do you mean you’re doing a “documentary play”? I don’t know what that is. I think there’s journalism and then there are performances. And I don’t see how there’s like a – what is that – I don’t see how there’s a- I don’t know. What does that mean? You know what I mean?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: If the great August Wilson is a documentary playwright, then none of us are. Because he wrote the rhythms and the tales of the people, so like if that doesn’t count, then nothing does. And if he counts, then everyone counts. Because everything falls underneath him in a way. I mean obviously there’s other great writers, but…

BABS: Yeah, right?

SSJ: You got August Wilson. You got Caryl Churchill, and the rest of us are just playing.

I say all that to say though, you know, the idea that literally our blocks could then be on the stage. In a certain sense Hamlet, or what we did, Blood in the Brain was a mixture of that. That sort of alchemy of going like, “There’s this and there’s that. And this is how it lives in the world,” that lets us see our world, but in a different scope or with a different view finder. And that was really cool. I mean, it was beautiful and it was hard. Hard, meaning the struggle of our peoples and our neighborhoods is hard sometimes, but it’s also very beautiful. That would in particular was a response to the violence in our neighborhoods, and that’s really hard, you know…

So, you know, it’s really interesting that Donald brings that up because he’s exactly right. It was totally unconscious. It’s why…

BABS: I felt it.

SSJ: Yeah! It’s why you get to do the stories you do as long as you do. Some stuff stays in the front of your brain and some stuff just melts right into your skin. And Naomi Iizuka’s like, she’s one of my heroes. Everything I’ve done with Naomi… yeah, it’s like melted into me, so I maybe don’t put that at the forefront of my brain like, “We’re going to do Dark Alliance like we did Blood in the Brain.” No, I never thought of it like that at all.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But there’s certainly something to that. She does this thing. She taught me a lesson a long time ago.

The great Luis Saguar was writing his play, his masterpiece, Hotel Angulo, and he would dictate sometimes and I would write. He was just a natural born great storyteller. So, I knew what he was writing as he was writing it, and by the time he’d compiled say 25 pages of this stuff, he was like, “I’m going to give it to Naomi Iizuka and another writer friend of ours.”

And I was like, “Uh… Okay… You sure? Don’t you want to finish it? Or get a draft or something like that?” He was like, “No, I wanna see what I have. I love them. I trust their opinion.” You know, I was like- it obviously hadn’t- it wasn’t telling it’s full tale, but the heart was in there.

And I had this sort of, you know, this brainy, dumb idea, and I was like, “Hey, why don’t you think of it as not a big night of theater and maybe it’s a smaller refractions. Think of it as kind of a quartet thing.” He was a little bit like, “Yeah, that’s not what I’m thinking. That’s not what I see. So, I’m gonna see what this story is.” And I was like, “Eh, I don’t know… I really don’t-” And you know, that was my big brother. He is my big brother. I wasn’t being critical. I was just being like what I felt like is a real collaborator, to say-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: -here’s my opinion. The same way I that I would offer to Dennis Johnson. Not because I think I’m so smart, but because I’m in the lab with those people. And… You know, he was very sure. He said, “nah”. That’s it. “Nah” meaning like- “Nah” not “no, you’re wrong”, but “no, that’s not what I see, so I’m not going to write that”. And I was like, “Yeah, I just don’t think – It’s not forming a story, B.” He was like, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

And Naomi read it and I was like, “Well, what’d she say?” He was… I was like, “Naomi, don’t you think he should make more like collage-like or more… It doesn’t have the shape to hold up to like play like that.” She was like, “I think the storytelling is so from the heart and so real that it should dictate its own form. And it should just be that. He should just continue writing that.” And I was like, “O-Okay…” You know I still- I heard what she was saying, but maybe I didn’t see it on the paper when Luis was writing it.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But he took that and he was like, “Yeah! See? That’s what I want to do. I want to follow whatever it is that’s in me.” And that’s- I mean, what a lesson. That’s the lesson, like follow the real shape even if you don’t know where it’s headed. If it’s true enough and strong enough in you, it’s gonna tell you. It’s gonna inform you.

And sure enough, that’s… I have no hyperbole when I say that’s a masterpiece that he wrote. A transcendent piece that sticks with me almost every day of my life. Like, I’ll hear a word or a line or a motion from that thing that just… that kills me and it’s because of the fullness of his theatrical storytelling, which he didn’t- he knew, but he didn’t have it sort of stated out and she knew that. She’s just a genius like that. She knows that part. She knows that the truest, greatest structure is the one that the story is as opposed to- She never said no obvious shit like, “Well, if we’re going to follow this guy, Mike, we gotta like him and when he kills his best friend, that might not be the best thing.” She said, “You have to follow the thing and let the thing be the thing.” And sure enough, we did a bunch of passes on that thing, and it became one of the most eye-opening – very structured – non-structured thing.

And I say all that to say, Barb, that with this. It never- I knew that again. Naomi’s sort of lessons, Luis’s lessons are melted inside of me where I don’t even think like, “Here’s my Robert McKee and-

BABS: Right?!

SSJ: “And I’m gonna look at this before I start it.” I just start guttin-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And just put it out. There wasn’t a part where I said, “Well, if you follow these two guys, maybe you should just follow these two guys.” Then the voices just start talking. Then you just start putting it out. Then you can start to shape it. And there was something must have been in me that still remembers that conversation with Naomi about Luis’s piece that just like whatever the story’s gonna be, it’s gonna tell you at a certain point.

And I feel really great about… Great and true. Like, I think what this does is true to, at least my experience, of trying to take all this stuff in – not just Gary Webb stuff, but like walking around the street and the experience of being almost thirty years later and sort of looking back at this broken refraction of what it used to be and what it could be and yet, in a lot of ways, is still there. So, I feel like all those jagged pieces find their way into this storytelling that way.

So, certainly not a play. Certainly not linear. But, you know, structured in the same way that your experience or your memory or a haunting does that to you. Like, I don’t sit down and be like, “Yeah, Imma be haunted by my partner that got shot at the Grand Auto. Yeah, I want to write about that haunting.” That shit just happens, you know. Those hauntings just happen. I think about Donald’s daughter a lot, but I couldn’t consciously – nor would I have the sort of hubris to go like, “yeah, I’m gonna write something that sort of responds to that.” I can’t do that. I can feel my feelings, then see where the spirits…

This one has taken on that sort of ability – not ability, but openness to sort of saying, okay, now let- If we’re trying to unearth something, then whatever you unearth is going to talk back to you also. It sounds a little frou-frou and hippy dippy, but it’s- Hey man, that’s how it got written, you know what I mean, so-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I don’t know what to say there.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And, I wouldn’t say that- Say we set out to do another that I lead in this way with the pen, I don’t think I would necessarily set out to do it that way. It’s the subject matter that did that.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Yeah, let’s hear Lacy! I keep talking too much. Come on, playa, spit! Give us some jewels before we cut!

D. LACY: Nah, I just-

SSJ: Give us some jewels! Put that in the text there, Barb!

BABS: I will!

D. LACY: I just realized-

SSJ: We want the jewels!!

D. LACY: I’m abouts to give ‘em to you. If you just- It’s just amazing that 8-9 years later since we did Blood in the Brain that how that was the tilling of the soil, if you will, for this piece. The whole workshops at Santa Barbara, the whole talking to the kingpin of the heroin trade, the whole everything. And how that’s where really… Sean’s “eggs” were fertilized, if you will, and the baby was conceived.

And I really feel that strongly because the first thing we did in preparation for that was we went up to the Children’s Memorial Grove where they have trees for my daughter. We took Naomi. It was me, Sean, who else was with us? It was one other person. But it was the three of us for sure-

SSJ: No, and Joy.

D. LACY: And Joy, that’s right.

SSJ: The beautiful Joy Mead.

D. LACY: Joy Mead, that’s who it was.

SSJ: Yep, that was… You’re right!

D. LACY: That was where the baby was conceived, not born, conceived. We meditated up there, prayed a little bit, and it’s Sean said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “This is something so tragically beautiful.” And that’s the apt description.

And I call that place, “Halfway to Heaven”. There’s a lot of spirits there – because it’s only children 18 and under who have been murdered in Alameda County. There’s babies in there – four months old. When we looked at the plaque and we read all the names of the kids. There was a couple- They were murdered. There’s a four month only baby in there. I don’t remember his or her name.

But relating to Sean what saying about channeling spirits, he really isn’t so much a writer, to me, of this piece, as he is a vessel. And he’s letting the spirits of the grave injustice be heard, you know. And did it so brilliantly by using the circumstance of what the late great Gary Webb unveiled. But taking the top of it, much in the way – As I was listening to him say about Hotel Angulo like how Luis did. He opened up this world of heroin. “Okay, this is what it looks like.” He just took us in that dirty, grimy, nasty, filthy, beautiful… all the layers of that world and this is what Sean has created with this piece. You see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between that this insidious monster of a drug created and how-

I was talking about it on the radio yesterday and someone called in and said, “Yeah, but you gotta tell people, it’s uplifting! Even though it was fucked up-” – he didn’t say it on the air-

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: He said, “I saw it and even though it was fucked up, at the end I felt uplifted. Like I wanted to do something or there’s gotta be hope.” And he said that thing about the children really struck him. “Not seeing children in the park”. He said, “Man, we gotta do something!” So, I thought, “Okay, wow!” If you can get just one person to have that mentality, that’s a major victory.

And Myers [Clark, one of the other actors in the cast] said something in the circle about a week or so ago that has become – I mean, as it was already, but it just reinforced it for me – he said, “We’re changing lives every night with this piece.” And it was just like BANG! The bells! For whom the bell tolls. I was just like, “Wow, that’s what we’re doing! We’re changing lives. We’re changing consciousness. We’re changing minds. We’re changing hearts. All of that.” You know, so…

Man, you know I can honestly say – I love Sean to death, I mean he’s my brother – but he’s a genius. I know he’s very humble and he hates people to talk about him, but I’m still learning this play! Every night it teaches me something. I tell all those younger actors since I’m the senior, especially Ricky [Saenz], “Don’t settle.” I tell Britney [Frazer], “Don’t settle. Keep digging, we’re not even there yet.” And then Juan’s been doing the same thing.

And it’s like, every night as an ensemble, this play teaches us something new and wonderful and amazing. And I can honestly say, it’s going like this [He indicates growth], we haven’t went back. We had one false start in the early preview because of whatever, but since then it just keeps going. And every night I say to myself backstage, “I don’t think I can do – or we can do – it any better than that!” And then the next night, we go someplace, totally fucking different! So, I’m not even going to say that to myself anymore. I’m not gonna put it in ether. I’m gonna just jump in this boat and… [sings] “sail on honey!”

Cuz this is an amazing experience. Just from the feedback I got from people I know and respect who’ve been seeing me on stage my whole life and telling me things and impressions of this piece and what it did to them. How it put their stomach in knots, how it made them hate the US government, how they want justice, how sad it was, how it made them think of their cousin who ODed. I mean, and this is the kind of stuff I’m receiving, and it’s all valid. I haven’t had one person say, “Critics be damned,” you know. I haven’t had one person say they weren’t affected by it, and that’s incredible.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: It’s definitely power of the people though, right, Barb?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Because you commune in a room like this-

D. LACY: Yeah.

SSJ: And if you come true with it enough and if the topic is relevant enough to the world, then it takes care of itself.

D. LACY/BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I mean the performance of it is great. Cutting Ball, they’re bold. They’re experimental by mission and by integrity.

D. LACY: Right.

SSJ: Campo Santo, you know, I’m sorry, man, but they’re just the best.

D. LACY: The illest!

SSJ: They’re the best actors. They have great techs.

D. LACY: And all the other acting community knows it.

SSJ: But see, the shows are always – and I say this, not sort of arrogantly, but just because you put good people together, they’re good.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But the specialness comes from putting it in the atmosphere.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And if it’s deep enough and it’s real enough-

D. LACY: That’s it.

SSJ: -then, you will affect. You know, I think Donald’s right, that word, “consciousness”. I don’t think we’re not masters, we’re vessels in that sense in that we’re able to help bring about a new thought or have it surface. People think these things. We’re not the only ones who think these thoughts, but you see it manifested before you and you go, “Oh yeah!”

A guy said last week in the talkback – here’s where it gets deep, when you don’t talk about the play. He said, “Look, all I want to know, is given this is our government, what are we going to do? I’m not asking you [the actors], I’m asking you!” And he points to everyone sitting here [the audience], all fifty, selling out.

D. LACY: Right, right, that’s my boy.

SSJ: And he says, “What are we gonna do?” And that’s not a “Q&A” question.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: That’s when you go, “Yeah, great.” That’s why you worked the time and worked to get the timing down to make this that and the other. And you edit it here because you have experience where you can put it in the atmosphere in a room like this and Donald’s right, one person says it.

D. LACY: Then most people have been saying. And the thing that I’m getting is that it’s hitting people viscerally. And I don’t know-

BABS: Oh, yeah, I still feel it.

D. LACY: Yeah! So, I should ask you, what was it like for you?

BABS: I mean, to piggyback off what you’re saying and what we’ve all been talking about is that, I, you know, I’ve been following the news about Intersection and Campo Santo and stuff and I was like, “how is this gonna be possible again”, you know?

SSJ/D. LACY: Right.

BABS: Like, is it going to be possible? And I think this did it. To have that- When I came in – The first show I came in was when I met you [acknowledging Donald] and obviously-

Donald: So, I brought you in, huh? I jumped her in the gang.

SSJ: Well-

Donald: You can print that!

BABS: Well, UCSB that’s when I met Sean-

SSJ: Yeah, don’t be trying-

D. LACY: I’m taking credit!

SSJ: Anyone who’s dope, Lacy’s always like “Well, actually…”

D. LACY: Yeah, I brought her in, yeah!

SSJ: Shoot!

D. LACY: Right or wrong, Barbara?! And she’s in Lovelife, so there.

SSJ: Don’t you be cutting. I remember the first time we were down at Santa Barbara, Barb was like-

BABS: I was doing this [indicating recording discussion], wasn’t I?

SSJ: This how we met Barbara – She was sitting in the middle of the fucking floor with the recorder, with the mike-

BABS: Yeah, just trying to get everybody recorded.

SSJ: Yeah, man!

D. LACY: That was where they had the great shut-out conspiracy. They wouldn’t let me run, but anyway. I’ll just say this before I gotta go. I really hope and pray that this play lives forever. I think everybody needs to see this. The non-believers as well as the believers.

I mean tonight was probably the most choir members we ever had. A lot of the people here know the story and are pro-justice and I don’t think we’ve ever had that many in one audience. There was at least- I can count the ones I know and it’s at least twelve off the top of my head. And that’s why the play went to a whole different place because “mmhmm, that’s right, tell it! Yeah!” You know, and all that it was like preaching to the choir, but this is to the choir and the non-believers.

So, I’m hoping that it has a long shelf life and it can continue to be seen til like Sean referred to the gentleman that said, “well, what are we gonna do?” and keep raising that question. As long as there is breath in my body, Imma be saying it on the radio that the US needs to be held accountable for this bullshit. You know and if this play or any play can still make that point, it’s the greatest story ever told, in my opinion. And I’ll say this again on your periodical, to me, Sean San Jose has written and directed the most important play in the last 25 years – and you can quote me on that.

Other than what August Wilson means to the black community. This means as much if not more because it’s speaking specifically to a grave injustice that has destroyed millions of lives. Millions of lives. And somebody, and I’m gonna beat this drum til I’m dead and the good Lord take me home. Somebody gotta pay. Somebody gotta be held accountable. That was the question I asked that lawyer. It was the last question in the talk back. She was all, “Well, we don’t know if it was intentional or if it was just neglect.”

SSJ: I do.

D. LACY: I was like, “Wait a minute, This a white male supremacist society, I would suggest it’s not only intentional, it’s extremely intentional. And even if it isn’t, who gives a fuck? It’s been proven they did it, so now what is the statute of limitations on genocide?” There is none. Let me answer the question for you. She was like, “Well, you’re right, but this could be difficult politically.” I said, “I know it’s gonna be difficult. I ain’t saying it’s gonna be easy.”

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: “But is it legally possible to sue the people responsible for this shit?” She said, “Yes, but.” Hey, I don’t give a fuck! What’s the character pushing the rock up the mountain, Sisyphus, or some shit? I’ll be him.

SSJ: Did you just Sisyph-y?

D. LACY: I’m gonna sing this song, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll pick up the baton. Now.

SSJ: And on that note, BAM!

http://vimeo.com/110932723

Sean San José is the writer and director of “Superheroes”. Donald Lacy Jr. is an actor in the show, a Campo Santo family member and host of the radio program, “Wake Up, Everybody,” Saturday mornings on KPOO 89.5 FM. The world premiere of “Superheroes” is presented by Cutting Ball from now until Dec. 21st at 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco. More details are found online at http://cuttingball.com/season/14-15/superheroes/.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright who got her start in theater learning from Naomi Iizuka, Sean San Jose, Donald Lacy and became an engaged theater citizen from Campo Santo. You can find her on twitter @bjwany.

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One comment on “The Real World, Theater Edition: A Conversation with True Heroes, Sean San José and Donald Lacy

  1. […] and raised in San Francisco. I was able to connect with her after seeing the show – thanks to Sean San Jose. I asked her about her process and how H.O.M.E. […]

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