On a rainy night in California: Sam Shepard and Duarte

On a recent rainy night in California, Jack Tarlton was in Duarte, the town where Sam Shepard spent his formative years. And, following a little detective work, the actor found himself at Shepard’s old house.

“After some slight hesitation, the current owners welcomed me in,” Tarlton tells me, seemingly still surprised by the hospitality he received. “I mean, I was just a complete stranger who’d turned up on a bike at their house in the middle of a rainstorm on a Saturday evening.

"They confirmed that it was the Shepard family home, showed me around, and told me stories of him leaving home to go to New York. They were incredibly friendly. They didn't know that their house features in some of his short stories so I promised to send them a copy of one of his books.”

The visit was part of a personal research trip undertaken by Tarlton as preparation for CHORALE: A Sam Shepard Roadshow, the new project which the actor has developed with director Simon Usher for their Presence Theatre company, and which takes to the road for a tour of the UK from May.

This ambitious venture will introduce audiences to seldom-seen Shepard plays as well as premièring a new piece, The Animal (You), fashioned by Tarlton and Usher from a wide selection of Shepard’s short stories. The Roadshow will also encompass music (Ben Kritikos of the band Herons! has composed a score for the productions and will perform gigs post-show), rare screenings of Shirley Clarke’s films of Savage/Love and Tongues and a series of interactive workshops.

“In a way, the idea for CHORALE is really of a residency as much as a touring show,” Usher explained when I met with him and Tarlton to discuss the project. “We turn up at a theatre and present a range of shows and also do some activities with people during the day. Of course you want audiences to have an emotional reaction to the work, and there’s plenty in these plays to provide that. But at the same time you want people to engage in other ways too.”

“So wherever we play two dates or more we’ll do workshops,” Tarlton adds. “We’ll start by screening the film Tongues, and then participants will go on to create a short performance inspired by the film’s themes.”