La MaMa Celebrates the Life and Career of Sam Shepard

by Michael Eddy
Sam Shepard and Ellen Stewart
Sam Shepard and Ellen Stewart

American playwright, actor, author, and director, Sam Shepard—who died on July 27, 2017 and was a prominent playwright during the early years of the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 60’s and 70’s—will be remembered at one of the theatres he regularly called home during that era, La MaMa, on October 7 at 3pm at the Ellen Stewart Theatre in New York City.

The Sam Shepard Tribute will be presented as part of the kick off to La MaMa’s 56th season, and appears as part of the company’s celebrated Coffeehouse Chronicles. The tribute will be emceed by another long-time La MaMa playwright and key member of the Off-Off-Broadway founding movement, Jean Claude Van Itallie (American Hurrah, The Open Theatre). Live and video tributes to Shepard will be presented, along with rare footage, photos, and posters from Shepard’s many plays.

Shepard was one of the playwrights championed by La MaMa founder, the late Ellen Stewart: La MaMa’s most recent revival of a Shepard play was Tooth of Crime in 2006, having been first presented there in 1983. Throughout the years, Mr. Shepard’s works at La MaMa include—Chicago, Melodrama Play, Changes, The Unseen Hand, The Holy Ghostly, Shaved Splits, Superstitions: The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill, Shepardsets: Angel City, Suicide in B flat, Back Bog Beast Bait, Tongues, Geography of a Horse Dreamer. La MaMa will present readings of Shepard’s early plays at La MaMa in January 2018 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre. Slated to direct are Estelle Parsons, Neil LaBute, Scott Wittman, and Joel Zwick.

La MaMa’s profound relationship with Shepard is explained by current Artistic Director, Mia Yoo, “Sam Shepard has a special place at La MaMa. He helped shape La MaMa’s legacy. Our founder Ellen Stewart gave him free rein to fully explore his potential. They pioneered a new era of art making that changed theatre forever.”

Shepard’s unparalleled body of work includes ten Obie Awards for writing and directing, 44 plays, as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs; and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child. Mr. Shepard was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, and one of his most memorable performances on film is Country, in which he starred with Jessica Lange, who also produced the film. Shepard received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York Magazine also described him as "the greatest American playwright of his generation."

As mentioned the Shepard Tribute will be hosted through La MaMa’s Coffeehouse Chronicles, a free educational performance series exploring the history and development of Off-Off Broadway from its inception within the Village “Coffeehouse Theatres” of the 1960s through today. Part artist portrait, part creative event, part history lesson, part community forum, it is their mission to provide a home, as did our founder Ellen Stewart, for personal and intimate engagement with art. The Coffeehouse Chronicles is curated and directed by Michal Gamily, with educational outreach led by Arthur Adair.

Admission to Coffeehouse Chronicles is free/suggested donation; however, reservations in advance are required at www.lamama.org

About La MaMa:
La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. The organization has a worldwide reputation for producing daring performance works that defy form and transcend barriers of ethnic and cultural identity. Founded in 1961 by award-winning theatre pioneer Ellen Stewart, La MaMa has presented more than 5,000 productions by 150,000 artists from more than 70 nations. A recipient of more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has helped launch the careers of countless artists, many of whom have made important contributions to American and international arts milieus.

La MaMa’s 56th season highlights artists of different generations, gender identities, and cultural backgrounds, who question social mores and confront stereotypes, corruption, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia in their work. Our stages embrace diversity in every form and present artists that persevere with bold self-expression despite social, economic, and political struggle and the 56th season reflects the urgency of reaffirming human interconnectedness.

Further information from La MaMa: www.lamama.org