Same Shepard was a great American playwright. I loved the worlds he created for the stage. They drew me closer to that magical space of the theatre. At times, some of his plays–on paper–were a struggle to comprehend. But once they opened to you, they shone bright like a diamond. Others, well the moment you began to read them they felt like home.
When I think of my favourite playwrights, Shepard’s right up there with Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and, Molière. And a whole handful of others I adore.
Shepard left this mortal coil this week (Thursday July 27, 2017). I owe him such a debt of gratitude, for all his plays have taught me SO MUCH about the stage and actors and dialogue and setting and beat. When I heard of his passing, I went to one of my favourites and I re-read it last night while on the treadmill at the gym. And, as per usual, it blew me away. The man has some beautiful plays. And the man has some very perplexing and complicated plays. I went to one of his newer ones. I believe he wrote it in the mid to late 00s. The first performance was on March 3, 2009 in Dublin, Ireland. AGES OF THE MOON. It’s a shining example of his meticulousness, from setting the scene to dialogue to character direction. And it’s a lovely play, truly. A nice one to have read on the day I learned of the playwright’s leaving.
That play is also a shining example of how not to follow the rules while simultaneously following them. All the business of that play is on the paper. Playwrights are told often not to do this, to allow the actors and directors to form the business. And, yet, there it is on the page with Shepard. Sure, there’s an opening for interpretation in his plays, but he was one incredibly meticulous and thorough playwright. He knew his vision. It’s the thing that amazed me the most whenever I dipped back into his work. And I read it often.
When you want to aspire to be something, you read the most shining examples of that thing you aspire to be. Sam Shepard’s plays? They are my PLAY templates in the same way that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is my NOVEL template. When you find something that aligns closely with your idea of perfection, you revisit it often…you hope that you learn something by spending time with it. You hope that it seeps into your being by some magical form of creative osmosis.
While I’m watching two of my own plays being stage-read this evening, by Theatre 3×60, I will be thinking of all the wisdom I have gained through delving into the worlds that Sam Shepard created for the stage. I’m still a baby in the field of playwriting, but I’m doing my best to embrace the form. Shepard is one of the reasons I have come to love it. His words, along with the words of the other playwrights I have come to admire through the years, have ignited a spark in me. It’s the greatest kind of spark, and I’m in his debt for setting it alight.
I’m sure I will always open up a Shepard play now and again, delve into its complexity, learn from its wisdom. Shepard’s plays have been a constant learning experience for me. The way he tackled relationships really makes me want to be a better playwright myself. I’m going to miss having something new from him to read. But I already know his plays stand the test of time. I already know that I can slip back into one at any moment. And that gives this playwright comfort. We were so fortunate to have him.
“For me, playwriting is and has always been like making a chair. Your concerns are balance, form, timing, lights, space, music. If you don’t have these essentials, you might as well be writing a theoretical essay, not a play.” ~ Sam Shepard
“When you write a play, you work out like a musician on a piece of music. You find all the rhythms and the melody and the harmonies and take them as they come.” ~ Sam Shepard
To the man who hated endings, I hope he’s revolving towards another amazing beginning. Godspeed, Sam Shepard…