A Bit About Same Shepard
If you were to make a list of modern Renaissance Men, you would do well to include Sam Shepard. A prolific writer of 57 plays – 11 of which have won Obie Awards – as well as of numerous short stories, poems and musical and dance compositions, Shepard also is a director, an accomplished stage and film actor and a drummer good enough to have shared the stage with the likes of T-Bone Burnett and Bob Dylan.
His plays, which include his Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child and his Drama Desk Award winning A Lie of the Mind, tend to explore themes of love, loss and dysfunctional family life and are often set in the gritty small towns and open spaces of the American West. Other than that, his plays are hard to categorise except for the fact that they blend unexpected humour and beauty with brutal honesty and painful relationships.
Born in 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Shepard worked on a ranch when he was a teenager. After graduating from high school in 1961, he went to Mt. San Antonio College to study agriculture but instead found a love for abstract expressionism in the form of Samuel Beckett’s plays and jazz music. He soon dropped out of college to join a touring repertory group.
Shepard’s real initiation into theatre came when he worked as a busboy in Greenwich Village in 1963 and was able to immerse himself in New York’s vibrant off-off Broadway theatre culture. He began writing short plays with unconventional structures, long monologues and rapid-fire dialogues which at first were panned by the city’s major theatre critics but which were labeled “distinctly American” and “genuinely original” by the alternative Village Voice newspaper.
By the time he was 30-years-old, Shepard had penned more than 30 plays and had won several Obies. And by the time he was 40, he was second to Tennessee Williams as the most produced playwright in America.
The prolific playwright is also an actor who has been in such diverse roles as pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and the Ryan Gosling character’s father, Frank Calhoun, in the 2004 film The Notebook.
In an interview with filmmaker Michael Almereyda for Interview magazine, Shepard was asked about how he is able to combine a career writing plays with acting in films. “It’s hard to explain why exactly, but I think that when I began writing plays, it was from an actor’s point of view more than anything,” Shepard explained in the interview. “I had the feeling that if you put yourself in the position of the actor on stage and write from that perspective, it would give you a certain advantage in terms of being inside of the play.”
Top Five Sam Shepard Plays
Fool for Love2
A Lie of the Mind3
Sam Shepard Quotes
I’ve heard writers talk about “discovering a voice,” but for me that wasn’t a problem. There were so many voices that I didn’t know where to start.
Hollywood is geared toward teenage idiocy.
I’ve come to feel that if I can’t make something happen in under an hour and a half, it’s not going to happen in a compelling way in a three-hour play.
Sam Shepherd features in number five on our list of best American Playwrights.