For more than a decade, actor David Sinaiko has been coming to work at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater without thinking too much about the neighborhood. Annie Elias’s production Tenderloin changed all that.
Does theatre have the power to instill a sense of place – a geographic self-image, if you will, encapsulating and enriching one’s personal identity?
David Sinaiko’s “deep and rewarding process” with this question began when Annie Elias (Pulitzer-nominated documentarian) gave her artistic cast free rein to choose, study and interview real people in that geographic area of San Francisco southwest of Union Square known as The Tenderloin. Those interviews formed the basis of her 2012 play by the same name.
Often we go to the theater to carry us away to a completely different place. Tenderloin is the diametric opposite. It’s meant to burrow you more deeply into the place where you are. I learned so much about the neighborhood: The diversity, the aesthetics, the politics and the history of the place. Below the veneer of crime and decay [in the Tenderloin], there’s the love that people feel for their neighborhood.
Certainly for the tens of thousands of San Franciscans for whom (as one county supervisor put it) the Tenderloin is the first and last place they live in the City, and probably for other San Franciscans who know the neighborhood, David believes that his work with Tenderloin is a success. It does instill a heightened sense of place, especially since the theater is located on the edge of the neighborhood its world-premiered play represents.
“I haven’t heard any talk of moving it,” says David. But he’s curious. Are the characters he interviewed and portrayed universal? What if the play is performed elsewhere, in some other neighborhood in some other city?
As big box malls increasingly transform the American landscape into Anywhere USA, it may be that we all yearn for neighborhood identity. It may also be that theatre and work like David Sinaiko’s at least partially fulfill that yearning in audiences.
That’s quite a day job. “As an actor, I see this experience as a gift,” says David.
– Interview by Barbara Graves, May 22, 2012
Read more about actor David Sinaiko on the International Movie Database.