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Savage/Love and Tongues:
The Playwrights
Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers III in Fort Sheridan, Illinois in 1943. He briefly attended college but dropped out to join a travelling theater group. Shepard became involved in New York City's Off-Off-Broadway theater scene beginning at the age of nineteen. He was most closely connected with Theatre Genesis, housed at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan's East Village. Most of his writing was for the stage, but he had early screen-writing credits for Me and My Brother (1968) and Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970). His early science-fiction play, The Unseen Hand, influenced Richard O'Brien's stage musical The Rocky Horror Show. In 1976 Shepard was named playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco where many of his works received their premier productions. Notable work includes Buried Child (1978), Curse of the Starving Class (1978), True West (1980) and A Lie of the Mind (1985). A collaboration with Bob Dylan that started with the surrealist film Renaldo and Clara (1978) led to him co-writing with Dylan an epic, 11-minute song entitled "Brownsville Girl", included on Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded (1986).

Shepard began his acting career in earnest when he was cast in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978). This led to other film roles, most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983), earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for Buried Child and also won a Drama Desk Award for h A Lie of the Mind. His screenplay for the 1984 Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas garnered him a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. That same year he was also made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1994, he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. Of his more than 45 plays, 11 have won Obie Awards. He was also nominated for two Tony Awards: for Buried Child in 1996, and for True West in 2000.

Although many artists have had an influence on Shepard's work, one of the most significant has been actor-director Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of the Living Theatre and founder of a group called the Open Theatre. Shepard acknowledges that Chaikin was a valuable mentor.


Joseph Chaikin
Joseph Chaikin was born to a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1935. He briefly attended Drake University in Iowa before returning to New York to begin a career in theater. He began to work with the Living Theatre before founding the Open Theater in 1963; a co-operative that progressed from a closed experimental laboratory to a performance ensemble.

The Open Theatre's most famous and critically acclaimed production, The Serpent, used the Bible as text, but incorporated current events, such as the violence that plagued the 1960s. In 1969 Open Theatre performed Endgame by Samuel Beckett, with Chaikin playing the role of Hamm. In 1970 it played at the Grasslands Penitentiary, a fulfillment of Chaikin's desire to experiment with audiences who would be fundamentally and culturally different from cosmopolitan audiences.

The Open Theater operated for about 10 years. Chaikin closed it in 1973 because he said “it was in danger of becoming an institution.”  Although it achieved much critical success, Chaikin said: "I have rarely known a case where a critic's response to actors, directors or writers has expanded or encouraged their talent… I have known cases where by panning or praising, the critic has crushed or discouraged creative inspiration".

In the mid-1970s, Chaikin formed an experimental workshop company called the Winter Project, in which he proposed explorations of the boundary between life and death, the actor as storyteller, listening, found dialogue and more. His production of The Dybbuk at the Public Theater in 1977-78 was influenced by some of these researches.

Chaikin had a close working relationship with Sam Shepard and together they wrote the plays Tongues and Savage/Love, both of which premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. They were commissioned to write When The World Was Green for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and later, they co-wrote War in Heaven. Chaikin was an expert on Samuel Beckett, directing a number of Beckett's plays, including Endgame at the Manhattan Theatre Club and Happy Days at the Cherry Lane Theater.

He received six Obie Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, and two Guggenheim Fellowships. His book, The Presence of The Actor was first published in 1972 and a second edition followed in 1991. After a life of heart ailments, he passed away in 2003.


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