Blog | Passing Strange: The Death of Sam Shepard

Passing Strange: The Death of Sam Shepard

By admin | August 3, 2017
Sam Shepard and Patti Smith propping one another up outside the Chelsea Hotel in 1971. Photo by David Gahr/Getty.

Sam Shepard and Patti Smith propping one another up outside the Chelsea Hotel in 1971. Photo by David Gahr/Getty.

by Colin Thomas

Passing Strange: The Death of Sam Shepard

Playwright and actor Sam Shepard is dead, and it feels surreal: I remember when he was the handsome, handsome poster boy of the theatrical avant garde. I remember phoning directory assistance in New York City and asking the operator for his number.

Shepard, 73, died in his Kentucky home on July 27 of complications arising from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).

Although he became a movie star in films such as Days of Heaven (1978) and he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as astronaut Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983), he made his name Off-Off-Broadway by writing hallucinatory plays like Cowboy Mouth, which he co-authored with his then-lover Patti Smith.

Smith has penned a moving farewell to her buddy.

Shepard wrote about illusions. In plays such as Buried Child, which features an alcoholic patriarch and generations of males who don’t recognize one another, he deconstructed myths of masculinity and the American West. In his work, identity is unstable: the diametrically different brothers in True West trade personae.

In this video, Shepard talks about the mutability of identity—“this thing of being seduced into believing one is what you make yourself to believe you are”—and the dangers of the family: “I was a little afraid of it, particularly around my old man.”

This excellent summary article in The New York Times and this more personal piece from Slate are among the best of the recent writing on Shepard and his passing.

Like the original Scaramouche, Anthony Scaramucci entertains the audience with his grimaces.

Like the original Scaramouche, Anthony Scaramucci entertains the audience with his grimaces.

But Can He Do the Fandango?

It’s no secret that Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted only 10 days as Donald Trump’s director of communications, is a clown. If you need jaw-dropping proof, read the Mamet-like rant he laid on the The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizzy. But maybe Scaramucci was just living out his theatrical destiny.

According to this Wikipedia entry, Scaramouche or Scaramuccia, which means “little skirmisher,” is a stock clown character from commedia dell’arte. He “entertains the audience with his grimaces and affected language.”

Who knew? Well, quite a few people have found out. Merriam-Webster reports that Anthony Scaramucci’s term as the White House communications director prompted an 8185% increase in searches for “Scaramouche.”

Tonia Sina’s workshops on staging intimacy can end in a safe, choreographed orgy.

Tonia Sina’s workshops on staging intimacy can end in a safe, choreographed orgy.

Sex at Work

Spontaneous sex scenes on-stage? Nope. No. Unh unh. Definitely not. Not the place for it.

The lack of clear boundaries opens the door to sexual harassment and emotional confusion according to Tonia Sina, who is an intimacy choreographer. Like a fight director, Sina helps theatremakers to stage exciting and potentially dangerous encounters.

Quoted in Toronto’s Now magazine, she argues that, by creating clear boundaries, her work helps to keep everybody safe—from both unwanted touching and from “showmances,” in which actors who play lovers fall unwittingly into unstable off-stage relationships.

According to a piece from The New York Times, younger women and younger gay men are particularly vulnerable and all theatre workers need to be protected by clearer policies.

And this much lighter piece from the NYT, explores how the actors who are currently playing the young lovers in the Public Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream manage to fall  instantly in lust—without causing any damage in the process.

Both the title character and the musical itself fly in the TUTS production of Mary Poppins. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Both the title character and the musical itself fly in the TUTS production of Mary Poppins. Photo by Tim Matheson.

My Besties

Mary Poppins and I are going steady. The Theatre Under the Stars production of the musical is still the best show I’ve seen this summer.

How much did I enjoy it? Well, the opening line of my review is, “This is what life is for. Really. I’m not exaggerating.”

Vancouver Green Room

Are you enjoying Fresh Sheet? Well, I’ve got even more for you.

On my website, colinthomas.ca, I’ve just launched Vancouver Green Room.

While Fresh Sheet offers the most thought-provoking theatre coverage from local, national, and international sources, Green Room is all about Vancouver’s theatre community— who’s kicking ass, who has the keenest business eye, and who’s offering work.

The first issue, Vancouver Green Room: The Launch!, includes an item about local actor Karin Konoval, whose work in War for the Planet of the Apes is generating Oscar buzz. There are also pieces about the impact that an increased sense of self-importance is having on ticket-buying habits, and about affordable-pricing strategies.

I have just built a virtual green room. Come on by. We’ll chat.

I have just built a virtual green room. Come on by. We’ll chat.

This week’s issue will include items on d/Deaf inclusion, the best books for performers to read, and the reasons stage actors don’t need film careers.

Come on by!

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