Fiona Lindsay considers true talent and Sam Shepard’s True West

Today we launch Sam Shepard’s magnificent play True West on Digital Theatre Plus. This is an iconic piece that pokes and probes at the idealistic notion of the American Dream and our incessant need to make our mark. 

Making a mark and having your 15 seconds of fame seems (unfortunately) to be the thing to aspire to these days. Social media encourages self-promotion - success being measured by the number of followers you have on one platform or another. Surely this can’t have an enduring and significant influence?

Most people that make a mark and leave an indelible impression on society, do so unconsciously. They exist in pursuit of the passions that stir from within them and that they can’t ignore. Outwardly it can seem like it all happens by accident - but scratch the surface and you discover that most mark makers share qualities such as tenacity, determination and unique talent. They are a tribe like no other.

Sam Shepard is one such and a couple of years ago I had the immense pleasure and privilege of going on a short road trip with him up the West coast of Scotland from Prestwick to Glasgow. 

We were in a car on a motorway, but it felt like we were cowboys on horseback riding through the desert. Sam has a wonderfully laconic drawl that made everything he said sound momentous – most of it was. He talked about his dislike of flying and his love of horses. He revealed that he writes everything using a typewriter, not possessing a mobile phone or computer. Sam recalled his childhood, discovering the music of language and literature and being young in NYC, with Lou Reed and Patti Smith. He recalled hanging out in the East Village and how he persuaded them to turn their poetry into song. I was lost. There was not contrivance, no showiness just plain talk. 

Plain talk is what makes Sam’s work so brilliant. There is no excess and he is excruciatingly accurate in his portrayal of human beings and the knots we can all tangle ourselves up in. 

Later that day, once we’d got off our horses, I sat beside him in the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow, as the curtain rose on Phillip Breen’s production of True West. Sam must have attended numerous versions of the play but he watched the show as if it was its premiere, his laughter was loud and his applause generous. Afterwards he sat on stage and took questions from the audience. There was no self-promotion, no indulgence. He was very present and we all knew that we were in the company of a genuine creative artist – a one-off. As the sun set on the occasion it was True West indeed.


True West is now available worldwide