Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ellen Stewart of La MaMa Theater, RIP

This week saw the passing of another Grande Dame of East 4th Street, the amazing founder of La MaMa Theater, Ellen Stewart. Ms. Stewart, who died at 91, was always a kind presence on our block; always friendly and engaging. Whenever I saw her, I knew I'd seen someone Great. She was a celebrity's celebrity. So many hugely talented people found their bearings under her supportive wing: Sam Shepard, Landford Wilson, Robert DeNiro, Phillip Glass, Bette Midler, Al Pacino, and countless others who passed through her open doors.

Ellen was beautiful. Even when she became so ill that she needed a wheelchair, she had a commanding presence, larger than life. A makeshift memorial has popped up on our block in front of her theater. It saddens me to think that the votives and flowers have been washed away by the three inches of slush we've accumulated in the last 24 hours. Certainly, there will be a beautiful memorial to her in the days to come. For those of you who haven't attended La MaMa, why don't you? We take for granted that we live in a city where people are creatively supported, but behind these Off-off Broadway productions are a stalwart few who consistently put their money where their mouth is, who show up, who contribute and support. Ellen wrote the book, offering struggling playwrights and actors places to live over the last decades.

For those of you with elderly patrons of the arts in your own neighborhoods, frequent their efforts. Without them, the support diminishes. Without the support, often the inclination to create. I'm lucky that because of Ellen there are now at least a dozen theaters on my block alone, and without her, I can say with certainty, there would not be. Thank you, Ellen. You will be missed.

You can read the New York Times's obituary of Ellen Stewart here (http://nyti.ms/g9uePN).

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