The Woman Who Invented Off-Off-Broadway… Ellen Stewart Dies at 91.
If it were not for Ellen Stewart there would probably never have been a Robert De Niro or an Al Pacino or an Olympia Dukakis or any one of a thousand successful actors, playwrights or directors. When she founded LaMaMa in 1971 in a 4th Street Basement, the Chicago-born, Southern-raised dress designer had no previous interest in theatre, but had a foster brother who had written plays and wanted to get them produced.
Stewart founded LaMaMa in the basement of her apartment building, eventually building up to a complex of four theatres, art gallery, and and rehearsal space. She continued working virtually up to the time of her death, producing an average of 70 plays a year. Her influence was worldwide. With the $300,000 MacArthur grant she bought a former monastery in Umbria, Italy, and turned it into an international theater center.
She was rarely commercial…in it for the plays but not the money. She defied Actors Equity rules about how much to pay actors (in the original few years they had no money) by calling LaMaMa a “Theater Club” and her ticket sales were “Membership Fees.” She was even known to produce some earlier short works by famous playwrights without getting permission.
Neighbors initially tried to close the theater down. They thought she was running a brothel, she said in interviews. Otherwise, why would so many white men be visiting a black woman in a basement?
“I can’t imagine La MaMa without her. There may be a place called La MaMa that somebody brings good avant-garde international theater to, but it will not be La MaMa. La MaMa is her,” said Director Elizabeth Swados.
- New York theater pioneer Ellen Stewart dies (omg.yahoo.com)
- Ellen Stewart of LaMaMa Has Died at 91 (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Off-Off-Broadway pioneer Ellen Stewart dies (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Ellen Stewart, the Queen of the East Village (theawl.com)
Posted on January 14, 2011, in Art, Arts, Business, creativity, history, News, Obits, poetry, quote, Theatre and Art, Word from Bill and tagged Al Pacino, Elizabeth Swados, Ellen Stewart, Harvey Fierstein, Joseph Papp, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, New York Times, Olympia Dukakis, Robert De Niro. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.