Magic Theatre Celebrates the Life of Playwright-in-Residence Sam Shepard
Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Sam Shepard passed away on Thursday, July 27 of complications from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Shepard spent a decade as playwright-in-residence at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, where he premiered his masterworks Buried Child (Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1979), True West (1980), and Fool for Love (1983, starring Ed Harris and Kathy Baker). Shepard returned to Magic in 2000 to direct the world premiere of his new work The Late Henry Moss, starring Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin.
Earlier this year, Magic produced a critically-acclaimed legacy revival of Fool for Love directed by the theatre's Artistic Director Loretta Greco. Greco previously directed Shepard's Buried Child in 2013 and A Lie of the Mind in 2015 as part of Magic's "Sheparding America" 5-year celebration. She shared some memories of her beloved friend and colleague upon the news of his passing.
"Sam changed the face of American theatre forever. With over 40 plays, he is our field's most raucous trailblazer and the reason most of us make theatre. Actors KILL for the chance to play roles crafted by Sam - and we directors are humbled by the odyssey. Sam was my kind of writer: Primal. Restless. Rhythmic. And wickedly funny. He wanted us to feel his plays. He would say, when asked about the meaning of his work, that if he knew the answers he wouldn't need to write anymore. Thankfully, he spent a lifetime digging at the mythic bones out back for hints of what it is to be human and we are all the richer for it. We will miss him dearly."
"Sam's work is profound, iconic, and cuts to the quick. It will outlive us all," added Chris Smith, Greco's immediate predecessor as Artistic Director (2003-2008). "Yet his passing is a shock. It feels like punch in the gut that knocks the wind right out of me, much like his writing. Rest in peace, Sam."
Former Artistic Director Larry Eilenberg (1992-1993 and 1998-2003) said "Sam Shepard's relationship to the Magic Theatre now enters the history books side-by-side with Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre, O'Neill and The Provincetown Players, Odets and The Group Theatre. While in residence during the 1970s and early 80s, here in San Francisco, Sam bridged the gap between American realism and European absurdism with a voice that was all his own (and which spawned all too many imitators). When he returned in 2000 to direct his long simmering play The Late Henry Moss, San Francisco honored him as a hometown hero and the Magic confirmed its place as his historic home stage. One of the things I most admired about working with Sam was his insistence upon the primacy of the word. And his words will last, I trust, as long as there are actors and audiences."
Actors and playwrights who have worked with Shepard at Magic Theatre also offered their own remembrances:
"Sam has broken my heart open a thousand times. It's hard to say exactly what it is, but it's something about his endless searching, his insatiable hunger, his inner turmoil, his relentlessness... His broken men and broken-hearted women... His cowboys, his fathers, his dreamers, his lovers, his love for the open road... Nothing has taught me more about the beauty and the pain of being human. His work has transformed me again and again. He is my favorite. Always will be." - Jessi Campbell
"Working on Sam Shepard's plays at the Magic, have been the most rewarding and challenging theatrical experiences of my life. My brushes with him and his plays, have made me grapple with the best and the worst of myself. I feel really blessed to have crossed paths with him while working on The Late Henry Moss; and been lucky enough to be in the room and watch him do what he loved... Making theatre out of nothing but his own driven desire. Sam smiling and holding me by the shoulder as we toasted a whiskey to celebrate the wild ride was a moment I will always cherish. My condolences and warmest regards go out to his family, during this time of loss." - Rod Gnapp
"He made the world so real through his unreal way of approaching it - my whole head opened up seeing his play and I have never found anything that comes close to trying to show the world we live in as well as live theatre." - Sean San José
Magic Theatre will host a Special Bay Area Celebration of Sam Shepard in September 2017. Further details will be announced at a later date.
Now celebrating its 50th year, Magic Theatre is dedicated to the cultivation of bold new plays, playwrights, and audiences - and to producing explosive, entertaining, and ideologically robust plays that ask substantive questions about, and reflect the rich diversity of, the world in which we live. Magic believes that demonstrating faith in a writer's vision by providing a safe yet rigorous artistic home, where a full body of work can be imagined, supported, and produced, allows writers to thrive. 22 of the last 25 new plays produced at Magic have enjoyed extended life beyond its stage, throughout the U.S. and abroad including Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge and the World Premiere of Mac's HIR.
Magic Theatre's upcoming 2017-2018 season begins with Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music - presented in association with The Curran, Stanford Live at Stanford University, and Pomegranate Arts - which will perform at the Curran (445 Geary Street) September 15 - 24, 2017.
The season will also include the World Premiere of Barbara Hammond's The Eva Trilogy (October 19 - November 12, 2017); the World Premiere of John Kolvenbach's Reel to Reel (Winter 2018) and the World Premiere of Jessica Hagedorn's The Gangster of Love (Summer 2018). The season will also include the annual Martha Heasley Cox Virgin Play Festival (showcasing exciting new work from bold emerging playwrights), and marks the fifty-first year of operations and the tenth year under the leadership of Artistic Director Loretta Greco. Magic Theatre is located in the Marina District of San Francisco, at the historic Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94123). For more information, visit MagicTheatre.org or call the box office at (415) 441-8822.