Sam Shepard

Posted by Tom Brogan on Sunday, November 17, 2013 Under: Theatre

I went to see
True West at the Citizen's Theatre on Saturday night, for the second time during its run. I had also seen it on the third night and I really enjoyed it. The set looked amazing and the two leads, Alex Ferns and Eugene O'Hare, seemed like they were having a lot of fun, especially in the later scenes. I had made a note to myself to go back to see it a second time, but I was only propelled to get another ticket when the Citz announced that the last performance would be followed by a Q & A with the author Sam Shepard. He's pictured above with director Phillip Breen.

The questions varied widely, covering his work with Patti Smith, his forthcoming appearance in the film version of August: Osage County and the writing of Paris, Texas to name but a few topics.

When asked what motivated him to write True West, Shepard replied, "It's a weird process. As a don't necessarily go through a big motivation and have a lot of pre-destination about where you're going. You just start. I mean, that's one way of doing it. The other way of doing it is having, I suppose, a big motivation, but I never do. I don't examine my motivation so much as have an intuition about it. It's like characters appear, situations appear, places appear. But it's not a lot of thinking about it beforehand. The thinking takes place while you're writing."

On rewriting, "Yeah. I didn't used to. I used to think it was a kind of...I didn't used to change things very much, and then I learned to rewrite. I learned to rewrite as I went along and now I really enjoy it. I really love digging back in to stuff. Because what happens is you begin something and you don't realise where it might have gone."

A lady noted that his stage directions in his texts are very specific and asked if that was important to him in the productions. "Obviously I'm not as exact as somebody like Beckett who composed everything in a very significant way...I wish  I was in that category, but I'm not. I tend to write things and then forget about them. Let them go, go on to the next thing. It doesn't mean that I like something to be done any old way, but it does mean I'm not going to fuss around with it, I'm not going to chase it all over the world and make sure that thing is happening exactly as I first depicted it. It doesn't matter to me." 

On how his acting and his writing influenced each other, "It crosses both ways. I don't see them as inseparable. I don't see them as one thing or another. I see them as being a part of each other. Acting, particularly in the movies, has a certain...I don't know what you'd call it, has a certain lyricism, kind of like writing. So you're writing in a different way. It informs what you do that way and what you do in the script informs what you do as a writer. I don't see them as being utterly separate. They feed one another."

An audience member, who had seen the 2000 version of True West with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly where they alternated the roles, asked Shepard if anyone else had ever done that. Shepard said that no one else had. Obviously I wasn't going to put my hand up and correct him, but it has been done that way since. In 2005 the Distillery Theater Company mounted a production of True West where actors Douglas Taurel and Foster Davis alternated the roles each night. I saw that production at the Edinburgh Festival, although as I saw it on the final night I couldn't go back and see it with the roles reversed.

Asked if the character of Austin was based on himself, "Oh no, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Everything is based on yourself. No matter how much writers want to deny it. You know, I've read these biographies of Shakespeare over and over and over where he's the one playwright who stays out of his material. Bullshit. Every character that Shakespeare's involved with is himself. Yes? [Silence] I mean I suppose it's debatable."

On any writers he would recommend, "All the South American writers...I think South Americans really know what's going on." He suggested César Aira and Jorge Luis Borges among others.

The Q & A topped off one of the most enjoyable nights in the theatre I've had this year.

In : Theatre 

Tags: "sam shepard"  playwright  playwriting  "citizens theatre" 
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