Ellen Stewart Award Recipient Shepard Selects Playwright for New Work at La MaMa

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The recipient of the first-ever Ellen Stewart AWARD -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard -- has chosen young playwright Matthew Paul Olmos as the initial participant in the new award being presented this season by La MaMa, it was announced at La MaMa 50th Gala celebrating the start of the internationally-renowned theatre's 50th anniversary season, held on Monday, October 17 at the Ellen Stewart Theatre (66 E. 4 St.) in Manhattan.

La MaMa's artistic director Mia Yoo had announced earlier this fall that MR. Shepard would receive the Ellen Stewart Award -- created this year in honor of Ms. Stewart, the founder and artistic director of La MaMa who died in January 2011. The Ellen Stewart AWARD is given to an artist who embodies the courage and pioneering spirit that Ms. Stewart encouraged at La MaMa, an artist who carries on her ideal of challenging conventional theatrical boundaries and expanding our understanding of human potential.

As part of the Award, the recipient of the first Ellen Stewart Award would select a young theatre artist who will then create and present a new work to be produced at La MaMa, continuing La MaMa's inter-generational exchange between artists. MR. Shepard has chosen Matthew Paul Olmos, who will have a new work produced by La MaMa in its 51st season next year.

Mr. Olmos, who came to New York from Los Angeles in August 2001 to pursue playwriting, is the author of the plays "i put the fear of mexico in'em," and "Monkey." Mr. Olmos is Co-founder and former Artistic Director of woken'glacier theatre company, a member of No Passport and is a core staff member at the Lark Play Development Center. He was recently awarded the "Top prize for the Americas" by the BBC 2011 International Playwriting Competition for his play "The Nature of Captivity."

Sam Shepard's relationship with La MaMa dates back to the 1960's when he was a young playwright and La MaMa had just opened its doors. In a remembrance about Ms. Stewart in The New York Times at the time of her passing, MR. Shepard said about first meeting the woman known as "Mama," "I walked up to her and said, 'I have this play.' And she said 'Let's do it, baby.' And she did. She just put on shows. I could bring something written on an envelope, and Ellen would put it on the next day."

A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, MR. Shepard's numerous productions at La MaMa through the years include, most notably, the 1983 rock concert version of his THE TOOTH OF THE CRIME, which La MaMa remounted in 2006 on the occasion of the company's 45th anniversary season.

La MaMa 50 Gala featured appearances by numerous La MaMa artists -- Oscar, Tony, Drama Desk and Obie Award winners among them -- including Wally Shawn, Estelle Parsons, John Kelly, Justin Vivian Bond, Scott Wittman, Taylor Mac, Bill Irwin, Marc Shaiman and Julia Stiles. The evening was hosted by Split Britches -- Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver.

Wally Shawn appeared in an excerpt from his own THE HOTEL PLAY (produced at La MaMa in 1981), directed by Brooke O'Hara, co-founder and director of Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf. Estelle Parsons and John Kelly performed in a scene, directed by Ms. Parsons, from Harvey Fierstein's classic TORCH SONG TRILOGY, which debuted at La MaMa in 1978 and 1979. The late playwright/performer Jackie Curtis, one of the original Cockettes and a regular at La MaMa, was represented at the Gala with a scene from his play VAIN VICTORY, starring Justin Bond and directed by Scott Wittman. Taylor Mac performed a segment from his 2007 La MaMa show THE BE(A)ST OF TAYLOR MAC.

The evening's program featured a sneak peek of LA MAMA CANTATA, a new work by Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados -- the text of which is comprised of Ms. Stewart's own spoken words -- to be given its world-premiere production on what would have been Ms. Stewart's 92nd birthday on November 7. As well, the La MaMa 50 Gala featured dance excerpts from Pavel Zustiak/Palissimo's "The Painted Bird Trilogy."

La MaMa kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration on Sunday, October 16 with the LA MAMA 50 BLOCK PARTY, a free event scheduled for 2 pm to 6 pm on the block of East 4th Street (between the Bowery and 2nd Ave.), home of La MaMa's three performance venues. The event culminated with the co-naming of the block as "Ellen Stewart Way," and a world-wide ringing of bells -- in the neighborhood, throughout New York and at theatres around the world -- in honor of Ms. Stewart's longstanding tradition of ringing a bell at the start of performances at La MaMa.

Among the La MaMa artists who appeared at LA MAMA 50 BLOCK PARTY: Blue Man Group, Silver Cloud Singers, Bad Buka, the dance troupe Pua Ali'i 'Ilima o Nuioka, Middle Collegiate Gospel Choir, the La MaMa Puppet Parade, Circus Amok, DJ Rabbi Darkside, Carmelita Tropicana, Heather Christian, Nicky Paraiso, Douglas Dunn & Dancers, and more.

For information about the La MaMa season visit www.lamama.org or call 212 475 7710.

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