May 8, 2018

Shannon Blake Skelton an assistant professor at Kansas State University and author of "The Late Work of Sam Shepard", has contributed a chapter on Sam Shepard to the recently published collection, "Visions of Tragedy in Modern American Drama". In the collection, Skelton joins faculty from other universities in exploring the contours of tragedy within the spectrum of American theatre. According to the publisher Bloomsbury, "This volume responds to a renewed focus on tragedy in theatre and literary studies to explore conceptions of tragedy in the dramatic work of seventeen canonical American playwrights. The chapters explore whether there is a distinctively American vision of tragedy developed in the major works of canonical American dramatists and how this may be seen to evolve over the course of the twentieth century through to the present day."

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When I first saw this photo many years ago, I refused to believe it was Sam. The photographer is Greg Gorman. I still see no resemblance to our playwright. If someone told me it was Alexander Skarsgård, I'd believe them.

April 30, 2018

DC's Rep Stage has decided to close their 25th season with TRUE WEST. Vincent Lancisi, who directed the first show at Rep Stage and also directed "Buried Child" in 1994, will return to direct. While many people know Shepard as a movie actor, Lancisi champions him as a visionary playwright. "He had a lot to say about Hollywood and duality and personalities, the motivation of money and how it waters down our artistic impulse and creativity," he says. "He was a bit of a rebel and it was sort of an irony that he became a pretty good movie star because he was breaking all the rules of conventional theater with these plays. At the same time, he was part of this Hollywood machine that he wails against in 'True West'."

Rep Stage Producing Artistic Director Joseph W. Ritsch says, "Vinny is really wonderful at helping actors create specific characters. The balance of comedy and dark in this piece is really important. When Shepard was alive, he often talked about the insider vs. the outsider and where that switches in this play and I think Vinny has done a wonderful job of crafting that journey. I think right now there are a lot of us feeling like insiders and a lot of us feeling like outsiders and the chaos of the wild west vs. the collaboration of democracy and who we are as citizens is very much a large conversation right now. This play, which premiered back in the ’80s, feels very relevant."

The play will run from April 26 to May 13, 2018.

On March 2, 2000, a Broadway revival of True West opened at the Circle on the Square Theatre featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who alternated playing the lead roles. This critically acclaimed production earned Tony Award nominations for best actor (both Hoffman and Reilly), best director, and best play. Here's a photo of Sam with the two leads.

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From Motel Chronicles:

"I remember trying to imitate Burt Lancaster's smile after I saw him and Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz. For days I practiced in the back yard. Weaving through the tomato plants. Sneering. Grinning that grin. Sliding my upper lip up over my teeth. After a few days of practice, I tried it out on the girls at school. They didn't seem to notice. I broadened my interpretation until I started getting strange reactions from the other kids. They would look straight at my teeth and a fear would creep into their eyes. I'd forgotten how bad my teeth were. How one of the front ones was dead and brown and overlapped the broken one right next to it. I'd actually come to believe I was in possession of a full head of perfect pearly Burt Lancaster-type of teeth. I didn't want to scare anyone so I stopped grinning after that. I only did it in private. Pretty soon even that faded. I returned to my empty face."

Homestead Valley, CA


April 18, 2018

New York's Signature Theatre has announced its 2018-19 season and among its six works will be "Curse of the Starving Class", directed by Terry Kinney. Living a stagnant, unhappy existence in rural California, the struggling Tate family is desperate for change, but every family member has a different way of trying to improve their station in life.  The play will run at The Irene Diamond Stage next year from April 23 to June 2, 2019. Sam was Signature's Playwright-in-Residence during the 1996-97 season when they  first produced the play. Signature is honoring his legacy with this revival.

April 16, 2018
Theatre critic Rick Levin (Eugene Weekly):

Between my two favorite American playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, I find Shepard to be, inexplicably, the more familiar but less accessible of the two.

For all the remarkable similarities found in their themes — family dysfunction, alcoholism, killer secrets, and the crass materialism and spiritual bankruptcy of the American dream — Williams is far and away the more classical artist, irreducibly genteel no matter how grotesque his subject matter. His work traffics in grand archetypes, whereas Shepard’s characters seem blurry and emaciated, like a fading Kodachrome in someone else’s family album.

This takes away nothing from Shepard, a master of restraint who tackled his chosen territory with a muted desperation and broiling anger that sometimes border on poetic incoherence. The mumble and the shrug are Shepard’s true domain. Because of this, ironically, he is the funnier of the two writers, and his tragedies are more unbearable.

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Hey, here's our Marlboro man!

April 14, 2018

The Sam Shepard Papers are split between the Wittliff collections at the Texas State University and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Ransom collection is filled with drafts and revisions of many of Sam's plays, stories, poems, and other works. Especially interesting is a series of notebooks in which he recorded thoughts and ideas related to his plays, acting roles, songs, and travels.

In his notebooks, you may find a  list of trees: cottonwood, dogwood, apricot, willow, polar, locust, crab apple, silver maple. Or a list of lilies - Citronella, Scarlet Emperor, Thunderbolt, Golden Sunburst, Silver Stain.  Or guitar chords with Spanish lyrics. Or passages of prose. Or unattributed quotes from overheard conversations. In the back of one notebook is a photocopied review of his 1983 play, "Fool for Love" that's folded up with an article about fly-fishing.

Often the notebook covers are torn and taped together. Many are the classic A6 with cream-colored paper and pale blue lines, small enough to fit into a pocket. One is spiral-bound with a faux snakeskin jacket. Several have the same earth red cover and thick black spine.

Inside the notebooks stage sets are sketched out next to maps of land divided into vegetable patches. Scraps of prose and notes about horse keeping are recorded in the same loose script. Phone numbers for Wim Wenders on location and Susan Sontag's NY address appear between other lists: things to buy for a party, actors to cast in a movie or Christmas gifts for his family.

For a complete list of the Sam Shepard Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, visit this link.

Sam writing on a June day in 2006 at a West Village cafe -

April 5, 2018

From the Salida, CO Regional Library - a few comments on "Spy of the First Person":

"This little book is classified as fiction, but it has a taste of autobiography about it. Sam Shepard wrote it, later dictated it to family members, as the disease that eventually took his life, took over. One of the book’s central characters, an old man on a porch, is weakened and ill, but alert. He could be taken as a reflection of Sam himself. And this character takes on shades of another of the book’s characters, so much so that it’s difficult to ascertain who’s who. But maybe that’s the point. At times it seems like the old man is being observed by himself; sort of an out of body experience by himself. The structure of the sentences have a hint of Gertrude Stein, short and repetitive. And it’s all in Sam’s slow, easy voice. A reconciling of becoming older and remembering the past."

April 2, 2018

Clerkenwell Actors Studio of London has announced an event called "Encounters with Sam Shepard", directed by Miriam Lucia. Staged at the Hen & Chickens Theatre will be scenes and monologues from "True West, "Action", "Cowboy Mouth" and more. Performances will be at 7:45 pm on May 9, 10 & 11, 2018.

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Like father, like daughter? Unbeknownst to me, Hannah Jane Shepard (often H.J. Shepard) is in print! She is published in the 2015 edition of "Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from around the World". You can read her short story called "Please Hold Me the Forgotten Way" at this link.

Back in 2013 the History Department at Fordham University recognized excellence among their graduate students by awarding a prize for the best paper written in a research seminar. The best paper for 2013 was award jointly to Hannah and another student. Her paper was called "Vanished in Plain Sight: Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Wisconsin, 1830-1890".

Let's hope we see more from this very literate woman. Here's a recent photo of her taken in late February in NYC.

March 29, 2018

"Fools for Love: a Dramatic and Musical Tribute to Sam Shepard" will take place at 8 p.m. on April 7 at The Rock House in Glenview, Illinois. It is also a fundraiser for the Les Turner ALS Foundation, the disease that claimed Sam's life.  The show is in three parts beginning with reading an excerpt from one of his final works. A musical performance will follow with songs that Sam's sister, Sandy Rogers, wrote for Robert Altman's film version of "Fool for Love." Following the music, a shortened, adapted version of the play "Fool For Love" will be performed.

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"I feel like I've never had a home, you know? I feel related to the country, to this country, and yet I don't know exactly where I fit in... There's always this kind of nostalgia for a place, a place where you can reckon with yourself."   

                                                                       ...Sam Shepard

March 23, 2018

William Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" may be the epitome of the story of star-crossed lovers, but Sam Shepard certainly gave the bard a run for his money with his 1983 play "Fool for Love." In  honor of his memory, Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival will be putting on a production of his Pulitzer Prize-nominated play. While the company’s mission is to faithfully portray Shakespeare’s works, it also includes "other actor-driven plays."

"It still seems natural to do an American classic as our first departure and especially Sam Shepard because so much of his writing is based in the Southwest," said Dawn Tucker, executive director of FlagShakes. She continues, "I read that when he wrote the first scene he just loved the characters so much that he didn't want it to end, he just wanted it to go on and on."

Performances of "Fool for Love" will be the last two weekends of March. The Momentum Aerial Arts Studio will host the production Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, before it moves to La Posada Hotel in Winslow the following weekend, March 30 and 31.

March 20, 2018

Roundabout Theatre Company has announced that Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano are teaming up for a new Broadway production of "True West". The play will be directed by James Macdonald with previews beginning on December 27 ahead of an official opening on January 24, 2019 at the American Airline Theatre in New York. Additional cast and creative team members will be announced at a later date. Hawke was a longtime collaborator and friend of Sam's and gave the following tribute last summer:

For my generation, there’s a bit of hero worship that went along with Sam. He was someone who could act and direct and write at such a high level. He’s a poet of the first order. I first saw a production of True West when I was 14. That production did for my generation what Brando and Streetcar had done for a generation earlier. It was the same time he was in The Right Stuff. Playing Chuck Yeager is one of the coolest performances this side of Rebel Without a Cause. The first time I met him I was 24. I was at a urinal during intermission of the first read-through of  Buried Child in Chicago. I later told [film director] Richard Linklater, and he said, “Well, you’re pissing in the tall grass with the big dogs now!”

What a lot of young people get wrong about Sam is that he wasn’t just cool. When you worked with him, he was a very serious person. He’d come to rehearsal and talk about Greek myths and weird obscure playwrights. I once went into a bookstore and found him in the Spanish section, poring over how to learn Spanish in six weeks or less. He was disarmingly humble and wildly self-serious. He could walk that razor’s edge.

Here’s one of my favorite stories: I was living at the Chelsea Hotel, and I had to wake up at dawn to walk my puppy. Outside was Sam Shepard reading all the famous artist plaques on the wall. We’d worked together a bunch already, and I invited him in for coffee. We were heading to the elevator, and Sam was telling me about how he used to live there and wrote with Patti Smith there, when we run into the owner of the Chelsea — Stanley Bard, this old-school New Yorker. Sam said hi and then, 'What do you gotta do to get a plaque on the wall? I did some good writing here!' And Stanley said, 'Well, unfortunately, Mr. Shepard, you have to die.' And Sam went, 'I see Arthur Miller’s got one out there, and he’s not dead.' And Stanley went, 'Well, Mr. Shepard, I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you you’re no Arthur Miller.' Sam burst out laughing so hard.

In the years I knew him, he could be many different people. He was a complicated person. He was wise, and I think he got wise fighting a lot of things about himself. He was a deeply curious person, always learning, always staying interested. He was writing beautifully at the highest level even at the end. I wish he hadn’t been sick, and I really wish we could have worked together again. It was always an honor.

March 12, 2018

Several years ago Sam and actor Scott Glenn teamed up for a reading of "Ages of the Moon" at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho. You may remember that the pair starred together in "The Right Stuff". The play is about a couple of dudes sitting on a front porch in the country, waiting to witness an eclipse of the moon. Ames and Byron are old friends who, accompanied by whiskey, spend a night reminiscing, bickering and growing hostile.

Here are several photos from the July 28, 2011 event:

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As a tribute to Sam, the University of Tulsa will present two of his plays at the Chapman Theatre from April 12 to April 15. Directed by senior students, "Action" and "Fool for Love" will be staged.

March 2, 2018

In the early 90s, Carol Rosen interviewed Sam for her book, "Sam Shepard: A Poetic Rodeo", which became part of the Modern Dramatists Series. In this excerpt, Sam discusses directing:

When I started, with the first play I ever directed in London, I was terrified of the situation because I'd never done it before. So I immediately conferred with two people who I thought were the best directors in the world. One was Peter Brook and the other was Joe [Chaikin]. I sort of talked to them at length about the process and all that kind of stuff. When I went in, I found myself sort of trying to imitate certain things from their points of view, but discovered that it was futile, that you have to deal with the actors that you've got right in front of you and find out what the experience is like: directing. You can't use a formula to approach it, so I never developed a formula for it. I like actors who are incredibly courageous and enthusiastic. I think Malkovich is a good example: extremely intelligent, fearless, and enthusiastic. Just does not give a shit about how this fits into somebody else's idea of what it should be, just goes for ideas that are completely off the wall. They may be wrong but he'll go for them.

At the time of Sam's death, Malkovich described him as "very cool and authentic" with "great simplicity on screen."

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Human Sacrifice Theatre of Melbourne, Australia, has announced an event called "I Lost Track of Time" - A celebration of the writings of Sam Shepard. There will be three performances between March 25 - 27. The extracts presented in this unique entertainment include his early Off-Off Broadway period when the plays were often performed against an aural background of hard rock music, the award winning main stage family dramas, personal observations and movie scripts. All accompanied by a live original music score which pulses with the rhythms of Sam Shepard’s writing. A man who walked the line between movie star and rebel, a punk cowboy "who never ceased to grow, to explore, to confront, and to listen to new music."



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