Tag Archives: biography

My “re-discovery” of Sam Shepard’s “The Mildew” in 1983

Friday, February 9, 2018

John Brantingham, a poet who teaches at Mount Sac Community College, has announced in a Facebook post that the his college is going to stage Sam Shepard’s first known effort as a playwright. The play, “The Mildew,” was published in the school’s literary magazine, Mosaic, in the early 1960s, when he was still going under the name of Steve Rogers.

I was probably the first person to read the play in many years back in the 1980s, when I stopped by the school and dropped into their library to see if I could find the magazine. I had heard that Shepard had published a play in the school’s magazine back when I was an undergraduate at UCLA in the late 1960s. The theater department was primarily oriented towards turning out set designers, directors, and actors. My emphasis was playwrighting, which I mainly chose because the department didn’t care that much about that particular option. That gave me plenty of time to work on my poetry, which I had an equal passion for. During the summer of 1969, I took a course in “contemporary experimental theater,” and it may have been through that teacher that I heard about the play. I had acted in a production of “Icarus’s Mother” at UCLA in February of 1969 at UCLA and was completely smitten with his work, so hearing about this early play immediately became part of my permanent memory of literary knowledge. I believe the teacher of the course knew someone who knew Shepard when he was a student there seven years earlier, and that person had mentioned the play in the school’s magazine to him. No one else I ever met, including the playwrights I met at Padua Hills (such as Murray Medick and Irene Fornes) in the late 1970s, ever mentioned the play. In point of fact, I kept the knowledge to myself. I hoped someday to do some original research on it.

Early on in the decade, though, I encountered John Brantingham at a poetry readings, and fearing that I might not ever get around to this particular project, told him about the play. He went to the library and told me that it was took some serioue effort to locate the magazine, but indeed it was there. Now I hear that there’s going to be a production, and I am happy to know that the play will now join the “Collected Works” of Shepard.

There is a part of me, of course, (and I confess it’s a selfish part) that wishes I had kept this knowledge to myself and that I had gotten to work on it a couple of years ago. Perhaps if the demands of caring for my mother and fatally ill sister-in-law had been less onerous, I would have found myself being recognized as the person who brought this play to people’s attention well before now.

For those who want to see the play, I will tell you in advance: do not be disappointed when you don’t hear one of those extended monologues that made Shepard’s early one-act plays such memorable theatrical events. In “The Mildew,” he is just beginning to taste what it means to explore the crystalline plasticity that makes theatrical space a poetic environment. Nevertheless, I remember what a thrill it was to read his play as I sat in Mount Sac’s library back in 1983. I confess that I found a photocopy machine back then and made a copy, if only because libraries are not absolutely protected from fire. I had my doubts that Shepard even had a copy of the play himself. I had read an early play of his called “Cowboys #2,” and I believe that title came about because the few copies of the script for the first “Cowboys” had somehow gotten lost or misplaced after its initial production.

I have no idea of who is writing his biography, but I do have a suggestion to pass onto him or her about a possible source of additional material, so if anyone knows a way to contact this person, please put him or her in touch with me.

“The Mildew” – a world premiere of a one-act play by Steve Rogers (Sam Shepard)

Mt. Sac Studio Theater
Tuesday, February 13, 2018; 8 p.m.
Wednesday, February 14, 2014, 8 p.m.
Thursday, February 15, 2018, 8 p.m.