January 17, 2011
Ellen Stewart (born November 7, 1919 in Alexandria, Louisiana), American theater director and producer and the founder of La MaMa, E.T.C. (Experimental Theatre Club), dies at the age of 91.
Stewart is considered as a pioneer in the development of international theater by providing a home for artists from more than 70 nations and for bringing American plays to audiences around the world. She introduced to America some of the world’s most influential artists including Andrei Serban and Tom O’Horgan, including Polish director Tadeusz Kator.
“Not only did she introduce unusual new work to the stage; she also helped colonize a new territory for the theater, planting a flag in the name of low-budget experimental productions on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and creating the capital of what became known as Off Off Broadway,” according to her obituary in the New York Times.
In 1971, Stewart was asked by UNESCO to be a cultural ambassador to the Philippine Republic, where she met Cecile Guidote-Alvarez. With Guidote-Alvarez, Stewart organized the Third World Institute of Theatre Arts Studies (TWITAS), a program designed to foster cross-cultural exchange between Third World artists and minority artists from the United States. TWITAS festivals have featured workshops and productions from such countries as India, Indonesia, Japan, Surinam, and Uganda. The program also spawned a number of ethnic theater groups, such as the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, the Asian American Theatre, and the Greek Theatre of New York.
Martha Coigney, former director of the International Theater Institute-U.S. (ITI-US) describes Stewart as the “walking manifestation of what ITI was meant to do,” adding that Stewart “believed that her artistic territory was the whole world.”
In the Philippines, Stewart even attended the 6th International Women Playwright’s Conference organized by Malou Jacob (current NCCA Executive Director) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in November 2003. At the said conference, Stewart called upon women playwrights to think constantly of communication with the world, “beyond our immediate environs,” and to make the playwrights’ voice be heard by thinking as a director with every idea of the playwright becoming a picture. Stewart also called on women playwrights not to concentrate on women’s issues but to think as well in terms of the larger humanity issues.
Filipino writer and critic Isagani Cruz writes in his facebook account: “She put up four of my plays at La MaMa: Jilsa (I was one of three collaborating playwrights), Ang Tatay Mong Kalbo (my translation of Bald Soprano), Tribute to Benigno Aquino Jr. (I wrote the script), and Something to Crow About (I wrote the lyrics). I even slept in the famous Playwright’s Room (where Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, etc., had slept). I am in mourning.”
According to the official web site of La Mama (http://lamama.org ), Ellen Stewart received 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 Ellen 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 Ellen 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.
Audiences who have witnessed performances from La MaMa will always have the lasting image of Stewart opening every La MaMa performance the way same: By “ringing a cowbell and declaring, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to La MaMa, dedicated to the playwright and to all aspects of the theater.’”
Messages for Stewart
“World Dance Alliance Europe & the International Dance Committee of ITI sends a never ending applause to the wonderful genius that Ellen Stewart stood for.
She will live on in or memories and through the story of theatre and culture worldwide.”
“This is very sad news although Ellen’s spirit will remain in providing guidance to so many. Ellen Stewart was a powerhouse in creativity, artistry and above all in generosity. She was a delight in so many ways and it was a privilege to know her.”
Neville Shulman CBE
Director: Brtish Center of International Theater Institute
President: International Dance Committee of ITI
Chair: Theater Forum
For more on La MaMa, please go to this web site: http://lamama.org