(Maxwell’s article appeared in BOMB magazine, Summer 2011.)
I have seen Scott Shepherd perform many times as a core member in two of my favorite New York theater companies—Elevator Repair Service and The Wooster Group. Since 1995, when we met for the first time, I’ve seen him as Hamlet, Nick Carraway in GATZ, William Forsythe in Poor Theater, a doctor in Cab Legs, a hippie expert in No Great Society, a hustler in Vieux Carré.
Scott likes difficult and tangible tasks such as memorizing the entire play of Hamlet, or The Great Gatsby, cover to cover. It can’t be work for Scott, because there is no other way to live inside of these tasks the way he does, indefatigably. Scott seems to thrive here, his appetite for knowledge never sated. More recently he took up the ukulele. As I watch him I wonder, What’s going on? I feel like laughing. Underneath his lucid exterior, his unflappable, calm, and yet cryptic something, I see traces of mischief. I see traces of consorting with me, the viewer. He wants to see if you see what he sees. For me, that would explain the pleasure.
Scott Shepherd’s face, translucent and polished like gypsum, his reedy voice reminiscent of another era, that of film noir perhaps, his orange hair, have emerged as an iconic presence on stages in New York and Europe. He was about to leave on a tour with The Wooster Group for their ensemble production of Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carré when we conducted this interview. When we see each other, we don’t really have that much to say to each other. I was happy to sit down with Scott and get to know him a little better.
Richard Maxwell Where’d you learn to read like that?
Scott Shepherd That is kind of how I learned to read. I memorized a book. One of my first acts of reading was memorizing the first couple of chapters of Winnie the Pooh.