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THE FACES OF SAM SHEPARD


THE FARMER’S SON Born in Illinois in 1943, Samuel Shepard Rogers III (known as Steve Rogers as boy) was the son of a former Army pilot and a teacher. His family moved frequently and eventually settled on an avocado farm in Duarte, California, a small town 25 miles east of Los Angeles. Duarte would become the suburb where True West takes place. Shepard’s father grew more alcoholic and nomadic, like the absent father that hovers over True West and other Shepard plays. Shepard worked as a stablehand, orange picker, and sheep shearer while attending Duarte High School, then studied agriculture at nearby Mt. San Antonio College. But he dropped out of school to join a travelling theatre group, which allowed him to see the country; after the tour, he moved to New York.


A young Sam Shepard


“I DON’T WANT TO BE A PLAYWRIGHT, I WANT TO BE A ROCK AND ROLL STAR...” (SAM SHEPARD, 1971 INTERVIEW)


ROCK AND ROLL PLAYWRIGHT In New York, 19-year-old Shepard found inspiration in rock, jazz, and Samuel Beckett’s plays. He worked as a waiter at the Village Gate nightclub, shared an apartment with the son of jazz legend Charles Mingus, wrote songs with John Cale and Bob Dylan, and played drums for a rock group called The Holy Modal Rounders. Reflecting on this time, he later told an interviewer: “I got into writing plays because I had nothing else to do. So I started writing to keep from going off the deep end.” In 1964, his first play Cowboys received a favorable review from The Village Voice and


4 ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY


launched his theatre career. Informed by Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionism and science fiction, his early plays were poetic and hallucinogenic, often incorporating rock and jazz music. He worked in experimental downtown spaces such as La Mama, Cafe Cino, and the Open Theatre, winning six Obie (off-Broadway) Awards over the next few years. In 1969 he married actress and musician O-Lan Jones, and their marriage lasted until 1983. His passion remained divided between theatre and music, and in 1975 Shepard joined a group of musicians (including Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez) to tour with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Road.


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