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Ellen Stewart, Founder of La MaMa E.T.C., Dies at 91; Funeral Mass to Be Held January 17

Ellen Stewart
(© Jonathan Slaff)
Ellen Stewart, founder of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, died of natural causes after an extended illness, on January 13. She was 91.

Stewart founded La MaMa in October 1961, with the original location in a basement on East 9th Street, and called Café La MaMa. La MaMa E.T.C. is now housed at 74-A East 4th Street, with an annex next door that was renamed The Ellen Stewart Theatre in 2009.

From its earliest incarnation, La MaMa has been an important incubator of work in the downtown New York scene, as well as a presenting house for work from all across the globe. Artists whose careers were launched and/or nurtured at the venue include director Tom O'Horgan, playwright Sam Shepard, composer Philip Glass and experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines. Among the artists from abroad whom she helped introduce to American audiences are Jerzy Grotowski and Andrei Serban.

In addition to her work as a producer, Stewart has staged, composed, directed and written librettos for numerous performance pieces, which she has presented in America, Uruguay, Argentina, Austria, Italy, Turkey, the Philippines, the Cameroon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Senegal, Nigeria, Brazil, Haiti, Morocco, Israel, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. In the late 1980's, Stewart established La MaMa Umbria International, an artist residence in Spoleto, Italy.

She is the recipient of many honorary doctorates and awards, among which are the MacArthur "Genius" Award, the National Endowment for Arts and Culture, and the Stewardship Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. In January 1993, she was inducted into the "Broadway Theatre Hall of Fame," becoming the first Off-Off-Broadway Producer to ever receive this honor. She has also received honors from governments or art agencies in France, the Ukraine, Japan, and the Philippines.

Stewart's passing has prompted The Public Theater to dedicate its 55th anniversary season to her, while the remainder of its currently running Under The Radar Festival will also be performed in her memory.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Monday, January 17 at 10am at St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, donations to La MaMa ETC can be sent to 74A E. 4 St. NY NY 10003 or can be made online at