Mabou Mines

Making Avant-Garde Theater in the 1970s
Iris Smith Fischer
The first 10 years of a company known for its creative collaborations and daring innovations


Mabou Mines: Making Avant-Garde Theater in the 1970s is the first book on a theater company whose record of daring innovation spans more than forty years. The group's founding in 1970 by JoAnne Akalaitis, Lee Breuer, Philip Glass, Ruth Maleczech, and David Warrilow created new theatrical modes by combining the latest concepts in music, visual arts, and technology with traditional forms of creative expression: puppetry, text, movement, theater design. Over the years, the work that Jack Kroll described in Newsweek as "valiant . . . original and magical" has been pathbreaking, challenging the boundaries of theater and performance. Mabou Mines have created new works such as the Animations series, Dressed Like an Egg, and Cold Harbor, and have re-imagined classical titles, such as King Lear and A Doll's House, in collaboration with associate artists from both the company's New York–based communities and others around the globe. 

From the beginning, the evanescence of performance and the dynamics of group work attracted Mabou Mines; the traditional process of play production did not. Like much avant-garde theater of the 1960s and '70s, most of their early pieces were never recorded, leaving little documentation of their foundational productions. Iris Smith Fischer provides this missing history, attempting to capture and describe the explorations of a group who set out to create indescribable performance. She makes visible once again the celebrated company's least documented work, and offers accounts of the decisions and events that defined Mabou Mines' ideas and methods, particularly their creative collaborations with visual artists, musicians, writers, and dancers. Focusing on the heady days of the company's founding and first ten years, the book traces Mabou Mines' intellectual and artistic roots, frames them within the 1970s avant-garde, and outlines their significance in contemporary performance.

"A thoroughly readable, enjoyable, and pertinently informed book. Smith's descriptions of each production and the working process of the Mabou Mines members, along with their invaluable commentary, are superb and make it even more evident that they were, and will remain, the players' players non pareil for their period and an exemplum for future companies and the avant-garde everywhere."
—Arthur J. Sabatini, Arizona State University

"A lively, erudite discussion of Mabou Mines. This book will be of interest to scholars, theater artists, libraries, theater students, and general readers who are interested in the experimental theater movement."
—Theodore Shank, University of California, San Diego

Iris Smith Fischer is Associate Professor of English at the University of Kansas.

Praise / Awards

  • "The vibrant personalities and extraordinary, diverse gifts of “the company of directors” compel the reader’s interest throughout this volume, which sheds light on a formative period of a group whose work happily continues to astound spectators and fascinate scholars today."
    --Cindy Rosenthal, Theatre History Studies

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 294pp.
  • 25 B&W photos.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03518-2

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.



  • U.S. theater, New York theater, avant-garde theater, 1970s performance, interdisciplinary, performance, Mabou Mines, Samuel Beckett, Lee Breuer, Philip Glass