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Celebrating Black History Month
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Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight on Ellen Stewart, Founder of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club is the recipient of the 2018 Tony Award for Regional Theatre.

To celebrate Black History Month, BroadwayWorld is spotlighting the lives and legacies of Black artists from every corner of the theatrical spectrum.

Today, we're honoring founder, producer, director, composer, and librettist, Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and one of the originators of the Off-Off-Broadway movement.


Who is Ellen Stewart?

Once an accomplished Black fashion designer, Stewart--with no experience in theater--founded and developed one of the most influential experimental theaters in the world, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, recipient of the 2018 Tony Award for Regional Theatre.

Ellen Stewart staged, composed, directed and wrote librettos for original theatrical pieces, folk operas, and more. Her work has been 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.

As an educator, Ms. Stewart guest lectured at arts institutions around the world, was a visiting professor of the Institute of Drama in South Korea and was a long-standing member of the Seoul International Theatre Institute.

What is La MaMa E.T.C.?

La MaMa E.T.C., began operations in October 1961, and to this day continues its mission as a landmark in the exchange of global cultures.

To date, La MaMa has supported more than 5,000 productions, featuring 150,000 artists from 70 nations. At its theatre spaces located on East 4th Street in the East Village, La MaMa regularly welcomes theatre and dance troupes from around the world including Columbia, Venezuela, Lebanon, Iran, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Scotland, England, Sweden, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Croatia, Korea, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Australia, Greece, Ukraine, Siberia, The Netherlands, and Macedonia.

In addition to its theatrical spaces, the Ellen Stewart Theatre, the First Floor Theatre, The Club, and The Downstairs, artistic spaces under the La MaMa umbrella include an art gallery, La Galleria, a rehearsal studio, and a historical archive.

Its base in Italy, La MaMa Umbria International, provides artists from around the world with residency programs and intensive workshops. For nearly 20 years, La MaMa Umbria has fostered cross-cultural and international exchanges and creative collaborations. Hundreds of artists have found Umbria to be a space that is beautiful, spiritually enriching, welcoming, and open to bold artistic experiments.

In addition to the Regional Theatre Tony Award, La MaMa has also been honored with more than 30 Obie Awards, and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards.

Notable Names

Some of the artists nurtured by Ellen and La MaMa include: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Richard Dreyfuss, Blue Man Group, Ping Chong, Tisa Chang, André De Shields, Olympia Dukakis, Tom Eyen, Harvey Fierstein, Richard Foreman, Philip Glass, Diane Lane, Taylor Mac, Bette Midler, Meredith Monk, Tom O'Horgan, Estelle Parsons, David and Amy Sedaris, Stephen Schwartz, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, Elizabeth Swados, Julie Taymor, Robert Wilson, and others.

Awards and Honors

Ellen Stewart is the recipient of many Honorary Doctorates and awards, among which are the prestigious MacArthur "Genius" Award and the National Endowment for Arts and Culture. She was appointed an "Officer" in the "Odre Des Arts Et Letters" of the Republic of France and received the Les Kurbas Award for "Distinguished Services to Art and Culture" from the Ukraine. In January 1993, Stewart was inducted into the Broadway Theatre Hall of Fame", becoming the first Off-Off-Broadway Producer to ever receive this honor. In December 1994, Stewart was awarded the "Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette" by the Emperor of Japan.

She also received the Human Rights Award of the Philippines from President Corazon Aquino. A book about Stewart and La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Presents: Fifty Years of La MaMa Experimental Theatre, by Cindy Rosenthal, was published in 2017.


Ellen narrates the story of the La MaMa ETC on a 2004 episode of 'Women in Theatre':


Theater Talk remembers Ellen Stewart:


Ellen rings the bell at La MaMa Annex in January 1995:


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