Sam Shepard On Playwriting IV

Adapted from: The Magic Theater

By Michael Ver Meulen, Esquire, February, 1980

There’s a way of just improvising a play, as an actor would improvise a scene, and I’ve discovered how to do that. I have tons of stuff that I just haven’t shown ‘cause now the values have changed. Along the road, that improvisation has to come to terms with something and make it cognizant. And that something is not explainable. For instance, if we start juggling glasses we could juggle glasses and carry on and we could juggle glasses all day long, but then what, then what’s going on underneath?

There’s more to it than just getting off as an artist, because, you know, anybody can make a piece of art. It’s not hard. And anybody can have that piece of art admired by any number of people. But what happened between those other people and the artist? Is there really a sense of responsibility in the relationship between the thing that you make and the people who come in touch with it?

The picture is moving in the mind and being allowed to move more and more freely as you follow it. The following is the writing part. In other words, I’m taking notes in as much detail as possible on an event that’s happening somewhere inside me. The extent to which I can actually follow the picture and not intervene with my own two cents’ worth is where inspiration and craftsmanship hold their real meaning. If I find myself pushing the character in a certain direction, it’s almost always a sure sign that I’ve fallen back on technique and lost the real thread of the thing.

You can only face so much, and then you turn away. Writers are very adept at covering that up; they cover it up in all kinds of disguises. But when it comes right down to it, what you’re really listening to in a writer is that: his ability to face himself.

I certainly don’t want to depress the hell out of people, but I think you’ve got to go through the night to get to the day, and I haven’t gone all the way through the night yet.

Dealing with the media makes you believe that you have an importance beyond your actual importance. It leads to a lot of false assumptions about who you are.

It’s pretty hard to make a living as a playwright, I mean, in terms of the rising price of gasoline and all that shit.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

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