Ellen Stewart (1919–2011) was the single most important figure in the history of American avant-garde theater and performance art. Founder of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Stewart was responsible for a staggering array of productions and for fostering the early work of directors, playwrights, actors, composers, and performance artists. Active until her death at age 91, Stewart also established a highly regarded workshop for directors and playwrights in Umbria, after receiving the prestigious MacArthur grant in 1985.
Although she was a vital force in American theater for decades, Stewart resisted attempts to have the story of La MaMa written until five years before her death. Following Stewart’s vision for this book, theater scholar Cindy Rosenthal relates the history of La MaMa through its performance posters, capturing the irreverence and the aesthetic of La MaMa over five decades. Richly illustrated, including posters and photographs of early productions and other rarely-seen photos, and featuring interviews with a wide range of now-famous La MaMa alums, Ellen Stewart Presents is a book for theater aficionados and anyone interested in the history of Off-Off-Broadway, the cultural history of New York City, or visual culture from the ‘60s to the present.
“No one empowered and unleashed more artistic freedom than Ellen Stewart. Her unique ability to make a haven for creative expression is here glimpsed through the posters of productions spanning her indelible career. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Ellen for the multitude of artists she nurtured—birthed, in a true sense. Here’s a record of that amazing era that we, Ellen’s ‘babies,’ will always hold as dear as our trusting innocence.”
—Diane Lane, Oscar-nominated actor
“What a gift to have this unique lens and perspective on history through the book’s extraordinary collection of posters and interviews from La MaMa’s remarkable community of artists. The book allows us not only to witness moments from that history, but through its visual representations of the productions, to observe the culture and politics of New York City over five decades. For us at La MaMa it is essential to understand where we came from in order to dream fully about where we are going—and this book will make that possible, for generations to come.”
—Mia Yoo, Artistic Director, La MaMa Experimental Theatre
“Through the physical nature of the poster, its relationship to performance, and the actual poster-making process, Rosenthal found a way to provide a linkage for all the disparate, uncommon, and almost otherworldly theatre that was and is the mainstay of this important theatre institution . . . using the poster as a kind of key in the lock of Stewart’s impenetrably mysterious personal connection with her theatre, its history, and the magic of her artistic entrepreneurship, to provide insight into the nature of how she worked over fifty years to create an artistic home for some of the world’s most important theatrical artists. It is a fascinating and rather gorgeous way into the heart of what has made La MaMa and Ellen Stewart a place of magic in the theatre.”
—David Crespy, University of Missouri