Off Off Broadway Pioneer RIP
January 13, 2011 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Ellen Stewart, RIP

Ellen Stewart was the founder of the La Mama Experimental Theater Club, and the champion of the Off-Off Broadway movement in NYC. At 91 she was still running the theater she founded in 1961, and working as the producer for over 70 shows per year.

From the article:
"Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Diane Lane and Nick Nolte were among the actors who performed at La MaMa in its first two decades. Playwrights like Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Maria Irene Fornes and Adrienne Rich developed early work there. So did composers like Elizabeth Swados, Philip Glass and Stephen Schwartz.

La MaMa directors included the visionary Robert Wilson; Tom O’Horgan (who helped create the rock musical “Hair” at the Public); Richard Foreman, who founded the imaginative Ontological Theater Company; Joseph Chaikin, who founded the Open Theater; and even Papp, before there was such a thing as the Public Theater. Meredith Monk, the composer, choreographer and director, presented her genre-bending pieces there regularly. "

And that's just the beginning of the list of her accomplishments, from organizing tours and introducing Andrei Serban, Jerzy Grotowski, to America, to giving the Blue Man Group an early home.

Ms. Stewart was a tireless promoter of new groundbreaking work and was known for her generosity in helping performers by giving them a place to stay in her apartment above the theater or cooking them a warm meal.

Other obit links.
Wall Street Journal
posted by geryon (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The first link hits a paywall for me, but if you go there through Google, you can get in (search result link, hit the link).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:50 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by Joey Michaels at 8:28 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:29 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by cazoo at 8:48 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by trip and a half at 9:03 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by war wrath of wraith at 9:23 PM on January 13, 2011

There is a La Mama theatre in Melbourne, which is named after Ellen Stewart's La Mama ETC in New York. The Melbourne version is very precious to our cultural heritage, just as the New York version must be to Off-Off Broadway and all the people who have passed through its doors - writers, directors, actors, audience members.

I went to New York for the first time last year and there are obvious highlights that most people know and understand - Liberty, Central Park, Broadway, Times Square. But one of the most precious things to me was visiting La Mama ETC, given a backstage tour by an actor friend of mine who has worked there.

It was late, after that evening's performance. There was no one else around, but I could feel the theatre's energy, its history, its creativity - even as we sometimes fumbled in the dark looking for light switches. I have a lot of memories of Melbourne's La Mama theatre and it feeds my creativity every time I see a show there. But to stand inside the original, felt like meeting the source of inspiration and of creativity.

Ellen Stewart's passing is a great loss, but her legacy will live on in New York and is felt on the other side of the world.

posted by crossoverman at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

A wonderful legacy and a fantastic life.
posted by chaff at 10:33 PM on January 13, 2011

She was a great lady, an enabler of artists, an inspiration. She was loved by many and she lived a long and fruitful life. Fantastic!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:46 AM on January 14, 2011

posted by liza at 7:17 AM on January 14, 2011

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:24 AM on January 14, 2011

posted by Bromius at 7:29 AM on January 14, 2011

I spent my 20s haunting LaMaMa, and tons of friends put on shows there, back in the day. Ellen was always a marvelous warm presence.
She lived well.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:38 AM on January 14, 2011

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