Candlestick Park was more than a now-demolished stadium. The former home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, it was a cultural institution. The Beatles performed their final live concert there. Pope John Paul II gave a mass there. And for decades, it was home to tailgate parties, in which fans would hold cookouts in the parking lot outside Niners games.
It’s that tailgate culture that playwright Bennett Fisher hopes to capture in “Candlestick,” his new play that theater company Campo Santo is premiering at ACT’s Costume Shop theater in San Francisco.
“Candlestick” depicts a tailgate party among dedicated 49ers fans from the surrounding Bayview neighborhood, grappling with change during the team’s last season at Candlestick Park. It’s also about the changing face of San Francisco and what that means for the old guard.
“I’m a big football fan,” Fisher says. “My relationship with football has changed as the league reveals itself to be more of what it is. And I’ve been away from the Bay for five years. I left in 2012, and Candlestick closed in 2013. And it’s been interesting to see, coming back and living here now again, how much has changed in five years.”
A 33-year-old San Francisco native, Fisher has been involved with Campo Santo in one way or another since he was 17.
“The summer before I went to college, I went down to Santa Barbara where Naomi Iizuka had a summer theater lab,” he recalls. “She brought down all these amazing artists from across the country, including Campo Santo. We clicked right away, the company and I. And I then started showing up on my summer break from college at their space in the Mission, and did everything from sweeping the floors to being on book to assistant directing. In my experience, they don’t really read plays in the way that other theaters do, looking for submissions. They get interested in an artist, and after they get to know you, you start talking about what type of story do you want to tell.”
In fact, without that familiarity, Fisher wouldn’t have written this play at all.
“I really wrote ‘Candlestick’ as I got to know members of the company,” Fisher says. “All the roles in ‘Candlestick’ are written for the actors that are playing them. The voices of the different actors were really in my head before the story, the setting or the plot.”
When she was invited to a reading of “Candlestick’ last year to see if she wanted to direct it, Ellen Sebastian Chang found that that the play resonated with her on a number of levels.
“My father was a football player, and my father had just died,” she says. “And I saw the kind of damage that happened to my father on a psychological level from playing college football. I saw what it did in terms of the racism. My father was the first black man to play college football in 1954 in Austin, Texas. My father had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, and he thought he might play pro ball. But not only did he get hurt, but he got in a personal scandal, which was it being revealed that a white woman had gotten pregnant, which was to be my mother.”
Still, Sebastian Chang finds sports terribly compelling and wants to bring that raw excitement that it inspires onstage.
“To me, sports is the most dramatic thing on the planet, because there’s always something really at stake, which is the desire to win the game,” she says. “And the people that are immersed in the fandom, the stakes are just as high for them. And so the loss is heartbreaking. The win sometimes so hugely elevating that it can lead to heartbreak.”
Contact Sam Hurwitt at email@example.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.
By Bennett Fisher, presented by Campo Santo
Through: Feb. 3
Where: American Conservatory Theater Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., San Francisco
Tickets: $30; www.brownpapertickets.com