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GBCA Executive Director's Letter - 8/1/17 - Remembering Sam Shepard

Executive Director's Letter

In my very early 20s at Miami University of Ohio, my graduate assistantship had me teaching theatre to non-majors at the Western School of Interdisciplinary studies. We had a small proscenium stage in an old Victorian building and I decided we would mount a full production of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class.

On hearing of Shepard’s death yesterday, I was reminded of that production—why I chose it, what the students thought, and how it stretched all of us. Looking back, it’s now a hilarious story that I usually only share over a glass of wine. Suffice it to say that it involved borrowing a sheep from a farmer in Indiana, driving it home in the back seat of my Volaré sedan (are you old enough to remember the powder blue interior?), and making my dogs crazy by keeping it leashed in the back yard. (Please, do not try this at home.)

The sheep’s stage debut was highlighted by a loss of bladder control. A mighty and noisy stream was unleashed during one of the most dramatic moments of the play. Try as they might, the audience quickly went from giggles to full blown laughter.

What was I thinking, and better yet why am I sharing this story? The answer is that something touched me in this play at a visceral level. I wanted to get it right and never even seriously considered using anything but a real sheep. The language, the loneliness, the characters, the cast launched me into a state of fearlessness and belief. Today, I don’t even remember how I responded to the debacle. I may have hidden in my office for a week. But I do remember a kind of exhilaration in the process and the curiosity of exploration. I am grateful to Sam Shepard for this.

And what did the students learn besides to think twice before using live animals on stage? Hopefully, they learned to embrace the script, but roll with the punches. I am pretty sure this is a vivid memory they have carried beyond their college experience. Take chances, try new things (like artichokes), improvise, and never assume you know what life will hand you next.

With a big thank you to Sam Shepard and all the artists in my life,

This letter originally appeared in GBCA's weekly newsletter on August 15, 2017. Please fill out the form below to subscribe.

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