When Shepard first came to the Magic, back in 1975, he established strong relationships with both the theater and its artistic director, the late John Lion, a "really supportive character, a man with great bravado." Among the plays Shepard premiered during his eight years with the Magic were Buried Child, which won the Pulitzer and an Obie, True West, and his last premiere there, in 1989, Fool for Love.
"It was fantastic to actually find a theater to be affiliated with," Shepard says of those years. "I'd done off-Off Broadway but I wasn't wedded to any of the theaters. I had an affinity with various people in San Francisco." He has written that at the Magic he found "an amazing group of young actors" and a welcoming theater community. "It was a terrific working experience. I could do just about anything I wanted." For the first time he was allowed to direct his own material. He wrote, "It was a jump start in completely new and unknown territory and I'll never forget the warm sense that here I had stumbled across fertile ground."
After nearly four decades in the theater, Shepard says he doesn't have a clue about the state of contemporary American theater. "It changes with the wind." But he has detected an interest by young people, and it surprises and delights him: "When I go to college campuses I'm always amazed by the young people who are incredibly excited about theater. At True West [his recent New York revival with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John A. Riley] the audience was full of young people. I'm enthralled by the idea that hey are so involved with theater rather than film or television."
Of course when celluloid stars take to the stage, young audiences will come, and that's directly related to their experiences with film and television. Shepard has successfully navigated both worlds with grace throughout his career as a film actor and playwright of enormous stature. And really, a little Hollywood glitter sprinkled on stage may be just what it takes to awaken the next generation to the power and excitement of Sam Shepard's plays.
Visit Gary Grant's Sam Shepard site