The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard

The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard

The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard

The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard

Synopsis

Few American playwrights have exerted as much influence on the contemporary stage as Sam Shepard. His plays are performed "on" and "off" Broadway as well as in all the major regional American theaters. They are also widely performed and studied in Europe, particularly in Britain, Germany and France, finding both a popular and a scholarly audience. This companion explores the various aspects of Shepard's career, providing fascinating first-hand accounts and substantial critical chapters on the plays, poetry, music, fiction, acting, directing and film work.

Excerpt

Critical studies of Sam Shepard's plays frequently acknowledge the importance of the Off-Off-Broadway movement of the 1960s in providing the context and the impetus for Shepard to begin his career as a playwright. This semi-underground theatre scene, which found its home in the cafés, churches, lofts, and basements of New York's Greenwich Village and East Village districts, was an intrinsic part of the counter-cultural mood of the period. These alternative venues operated by a kind of do-it-yourself spirit of invention and improvisation, and initially their only funding source for plays was the money collected by passing a hat around the audience at the end of each show. the free admission policy maintained by all the key venues until the turn of the decade meant that playwrights and directors were relieved of commercial pressures and conventions: thus, for many in the movement, there was a conscious rejection of existing theatrical forms, and an attempt to forge an alternative theatre which was at once more community-based and more genuinely experimental.

It was in this context that Shepard first developed as a playwright. in 1964, his first two plays, Cowboys and The Rock Garden, premiered at Theatre Genesis, an Off-Off-Broadway venue based at St. Mark's in the Bowery, an episcopalian church in the East Village at 2nd Avenue and 10th Street. He continued to be based there until 1971, when Shepard and his young family left New York to start a new life in England (just as Off-Off-Broadway itself, in changing economic circumstances, was mutating into something less spontaneous and more institutionalized, simply in order to survive). That seven-year period was for Shepard the most prolific of his entire career, as he responded to the movement's seemingly insatiable demand for new material by turning out eighteen one-act plays and three two-act plays (to number only those which were actually produced). Shepard had plays presented at all of the key Off-Off-Broadway venues – itself a distinction shared by only one other writer, H. M. Koutoukas – and eventually at more “legitimate” theatres such as the subscription-funded American Place. He also collaborated . . .

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