Sam Shepard On Playwriting III

Adapted from:  Sam Shepard’s Mythic Vision of the Family

By Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, December 1, 1985

I don’t think it’s worth doing anything unless it’s personal. You’re not dealing with anything unless you’re dealing with the most deeply personal experiences. It’s empty otherwise. It doesn’t mean anything.

I thought for years it was boring, uninteresting to write about the family . . . But the interesting thing about taking real blood-relationships is that the more you start to investigate those things as external characters, the more you see they’re also internal characters. The mythology has to come out of real life, not the other way around. Mythology wasn’t some trick someone invented to move us. It came out of the guts of man. And myths are related on an emotional level. They’re not strictly intellectual programs.

There was this big fight I had with my old man, and at that point I fled. And I thought, well, I’m just going to have to start over . . . Once there was a production of “Buried Child” in Santa Fe, and my Dad took it upon himself to go, and he was rolling drunk and started talking to the characters and stood up and made all this noise. He definitely struck up a relationship with the production.

Yeah, we had bouts of drinking. Strange . . . It (the fight) would always turn, inevitably, on this accusation that there was something wrong and it had to do with me . . . It hasn’t really clarified anything. You spend a lot of time trying to piece these things together and it still doesn’t make any sense. His death brought this whole thing to a head, this yearning for some kind of a resolution which could never be.

When you’re younger, that rage is completely misunderstood. It seems personal when you’re a kid . . . Then as you get older you see that it had nothing whatsoever to do with you. It had to do with a condition this man had to carry because of the circumstances of his life, those being World War II, the Depression, the poverty of the Midwest farm family. And all these things contributed to this kind of malaise. Then it becomes much more interesting, when you have some distance on it. Because then you can see here was a man who happened to be my father and yet he was more than just that.

My work has always come out almost like a miracle, some kind of strange accident. You stumble into a certain territory that starts to excite you in a way that’s got to be manifested. It comes out as a play or a character. But that kind of work cannot be formulated . . . Then it gets shot to hell. Because then it becomes a career. I’m not interested in a career . . . I want to do the work that fascinates me.

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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