You begin to learn an underlying rhythmic sense

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Like Something Overheard) ©MAIERMOUL
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Like Something Overheard) ©MAIERMOUL

Originally the monologues were mixed up with the idea of an aria. But then I realized that what I’d written was extremely difficult for actors. I mean, I was writing monologues that were three or four pages long.

Now it’s more about elimination, but the characters still sometimes move into other states of mind, you know, without any excuses. Something lights up and the expression expands.

You begin to learn an underlying rhythmic sense in which things are shifting all the time. These shifts create the possibility for the audience to attach their attention. That sounds like a mechanical process, but in a way it’s inherent in dialogue. There’s a kind of dialogue that’s continually shifting and moving, and each time it moves it creates something new. There’s also a kind of dialogue that puts you to sleep. One is alive and the other’s deadly. It could be just the shifts of attitudes, the shifts of ideas, where one line is sent out and another one comes back. Shifts are something Joe Chaikin taught me. He had a knack for marking the spot where something shifted. An actor would be going along, full of focus and concern, and then Joe would say, No! Shift! Different! Not the same. Sun, moon—different!

It’s being listened to in a direct way, like something overheard. It’s not voyeuristic, not like I’m in the other room. I’m confronted by it, and the confrontational part of theater is the dialogue. We hear all kinds of fascinating things every day, but dialogue has to create a life. It has to be self-sustaining. Conversation is definitely not dialogue.

– Sam Shepard, interview Paris Review The Art of Theater no. 12