Monday, July 31, 2017
“I just dropped out of nowhere,” Sam Shepard said of his arrival in New York, at nineteen, in the fall of 1963. “It was absolute luck that I happened to be there when the whole Off-Off Broadway movement was starting.” Shepard, a refugee from his father’s farm in California, had spent eight months as an actor travelling the country by bus with a Christian theatre troupe, the Bishop’s Company Repertory Players. Acting had been his ticket to ride; he’d been so scared at his Bishop’s Company audition that he’d recited the stage directions. “I think they hired everybody,” he said. Once he’d taken up residence in Manhattan—“It was wide open,” Shepard said. “You were like a kid in a fun park”—he proceeded to knock around the city, “trying to be an actor, writer, musician, whatever happened.” He had no connections, no money (he sold his blood to buy a cheeseburger), and nothing to fall back on but his lanky, taciturn Western charisma. He did, however, have renegade credentials and a store of arcane knowledge: he had been a 4-H Club member, a sheepshearer, a racecourse hot walker, a herdsman, an orange picker, and a junior-college student.