In the fall of 2017, Nic D’Avirro approached Matt Braaten, his good friend and fellow actor, with an idea for a play about the American playwright Sam Shepard. Nic was an actor first and foremost with little writing experience, whereas Matt had previously written plays and scripts. It seemed a potentially fruitful partnership - and it would develop into a close collaboration, as each of them brought their creativity to the table. At first, there wasn’t much of a story, just an idea about Sam Shepard on his last night alive, but Nic clearly knew the mood and tone of the piece yet to be written. Energized by the concept, the two immediately began sharing ideas, checking out books, buying plays and learning as much about the mysterious and reclusive Sam Shepard as they could. Nic and Matt emailed back and forth, talked frequently and met throughout 2017 and 2018. They read his plays, books and biographies, discovered old interviews online and researched anything they could find on Sam Shepard, then shared their discoveries, usually over a drink. Slowly the structure of the play began to take shape.
In the spring of 2019, they attended a production of Shepard's The Unseen Hand at Cal State LA, directed by Stephen Rothman, a friend and former graduate professor of Matt's. This powerful production spoke to Nic and Matt and inspired them to push on, giving them fresh ideas and a visualization of the tone of the piece they were writing. Early in their conversations about writing the play, Nic emailed Matt a quote he had come across regarding Sam Shepard: “One of our best and most challenging playwrights…His plays are a form of exorcism: magical, sometimes surreal rituals that grapple with the demonic forces in the American landscape.” Nic felt this might be their hook for the play, and watching The Unseen Hand that evening reminded them of the themes they had been confronting: The darkness and mystery of the American West as well as the loss and pain within the people who inhabit Shepard’s plays.
Nic and Matt, with renewed vigor, continued writing their play. Matt suggested they take the play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - the most prominent theatre festival of its kind in the world. Scotland is a long way from Los Angeles, but Nic knew Scotland well, having starred in a TV series (“Shadow of the Stone”) in the late 80s that was set there. Scotland had remained close to his heart ever since, and it seemed a natural and exciting place to premiere their work. With the end goal of performing at the 2020 Festival, they continued writing and revising what they had already written. Knowing the play was still missing something, Matt challenged Nic to try and capture the Shepardian American West on the edge of Los Angeles, where Shepard himself had lived and so often wrote about. The result is a powerful and compelling monologue that pays homage to the essence of Shepard and his works - and yet is entirely original. Nic, who still swore he wasn’t a writer, had come up with the end of the play. To get to that end, Nic had explored the depths of his life experience - and his soul - and put it on paper.
With the monologue now in the piece, they pushed on and began planning for the Festival. They had their first reading of the play in February 2020 among a group of friends, family and colleagues. Nic talked to venues while Matt researched online and sent emails. They booked a theatre in Edinburgh, registered for the Festival, and paid the fees. Everything seemed to be set to premiere their play, now given its title: Unseen Shepard, at the Festival that August.
However, Covid struck and the 2020 Festival was canceled. Dejected but undeterred, Nic and Matt began planning for the 2021 Festival. Nic and Matt continued fine-tuning the script and digging deeper into the piece, even more determined to bring Unseen Shepard to the Festival. They reached out to several of the venues they were in contact with before and began making arrangements to attend in 2021. But then, unexpectedly, Nic died on January 12, 2021.
After taking time to mourn the loss of our dear friend, father, husband and collaborator and reconsider everything, Matt and Nic’s family have decided to follow through on Nic’s plan and bring the play to the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The void left by Nic's death is immeasurable - but he would have agreed that the show must go on. We hope to take the play to the 2022 Festival in Nic’s memory and to see his vision through to the end.
There are many roles in the play, but only three actors perform them all. We have cast Matt Foyer to play Nic's role (Sam) and Cameron Meyer to play the female roles. Matt Braaten remains in the cast to play the other male roles. Martin Jago is directing. The play has been invited to run the first two weeks of the 2022 Festival in August.
Approximate costs to attend the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe:
Theatre Rental: $3363 (£2473)
Festival Fees: $402 (£295.20)
Transportation to/from Edinburgh and Los Angeles (flights, buses, etc.): $1500 x3 = $4500
Actors’ Stipend: $1000 per actor x 3 = $3000
Director’s Stipend: $1000
Scenic Design, Props, Costumes, Crew (3): $2000
Opening Night Event: $500
Total (estimated) = $25,765
Please support us in bringing Nic and Matt’s play Unseen Shepard to the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and help Nic’s voice be heard through the written word.
*Update: We had a successful run at the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a recording of one of our Fringe performances will be available soon! Details on that will be announced soon.*
Here is a photo of Nic on the set of the last film he appeared in.
A video about Nic and this project from Terry Diab, his wife and co-producer.
Co-writer, co-producer and an actor in Unseen Shepard, Matt Braaten.