Derry's Playhouse Theatre Pay Tribute to Sam Shepard

The influential playwright and actor, who passed away this week, premiered his play A Particle of Dread at the venue during 2013

Sam Shepard with Dave Duggan at the world premiere of A Particle of Dread in The Playhouse, 2013. Picture courtesy of Gavin Connolly.

Derry's Playhouse Theatre has issued a heartfelt tribute to Sam Shepard following news that the Pulitzer Prize winning writer and actor has died at the age of 73 due to complications of ALS.

Noted as being one of America's generation-defining playwrights as well as an Oscar nominee, Shepard spent six weeks in Derry during 2013 where he worked with Field Day on A Particle of Dread as part of the year-long City of Culture programme. The Playhouse hosted the production's world premiere before actor Stephen Rea and his company brought it to New York the following year.

Shepard also appeared as a guest of the 2013 Foyle Film Festival, taking part in a special Q&A event which came after a screening of his much-loved 1984 film Paris, Texas at Brunswick Moviebowl.

Sam Shepard Foyle Film Festival

Shepard at a Q&A event as part of the 2013 Foyle Film Festival

Niall Mc Caughan, CEO of The Playhouse stated: 'Our staff were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Sam Shepard. Sam was here in November 2013 as part of City Of Culture with Field Day (Playhouse Patron). Sam had written A Particle of Dread (Oedipus variations), and we were fortunate as one of the key commissioning and producing theatre in Ireland to host this world premiere. Having Field Day back in our buildings was exciting enough, but to have a screen legend was another. He was a true gentleman; everyone liked him and he took Derry to his heart. In one interview for The Guardian he stated 'In Derry, you have a feeling of home, there's a centre to it. In LA, you don't get that feeling at all – you feel like home is splintered of in a thousand directions.

'When we first learned that Sam was coming to the city, I 'Googled' him and was surprised to learn that he was better known as a playwright than a Hollywood screen legend. He wrote 44 plays and of course won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for Buried Child. He was described in the magazine New York as 'the greatest American playwright of his generation'. His plays were bleak, poetic, had black humour, and focused on those living on outskirts of America society. He worked with, amongst others, Bob Dylan, Richard Greer, Harvey Keitel, Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson.'

'He also had a very successful acting career receiving amongst others an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Right Stuff, and appeared in many other films including Black Hawk Down as well as writing the cult film Paris, Texas. In later life he also dedicated a considerable amount of teaching and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Science in 1986 and in 1994 inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.'

'Originally when he came to The Playhouse, he only was to stay a week, but ended up staying nearly two months! He was a likeable man, and I have to say that I was a bit star struct when I first met him. On the world premiere of his play I had on opening night to give my seat up for Enda O'Brien. On my second attempt the following night I again had to give up my seat, this time to Neil Jordon, and ended up heading to our theatre bar to chat to our staff. Here I was surprised to find Sam on his own, and I ended up spending a lovely night chatting about life in general. I was really surprised to learn that like me, he was from a farming background and still kept a busy farm. This was the highlight personally for me of his visit to Derry, and we in The Playhouse were honoured that he came into our lives for such a brief time, but left his mark here, in our cultural city and globally. We send our condolences to his family Friends and Field Day Theatre Company.'