Places that Matter

La Mama Experimental Theater Club

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Marina Gan
Marina Gan
La Mama Experimental Theater Club
A theater that seeks to develop, nurture, support, produce and present new and original performance work by artists of all nations and cultures
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Place Matters Profile

By Joan Giummo

In the early 1960s, an aspiring fashion designer, Ellen Stewart, met a mentor in the form of a Lower East Side merchant and former pushcart operator, Abraham Diamond. He advised her to always keep a mental pushcart in front of her. She did. Her pushcart was the dream of creating an innovative theatre center. That dream hatched La Mama Experimental Theatre Club.

The word club in the title suggests supporters, and there have been important ones, such as the New York State Council on the Arts, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. But there have also been evictions, Con Edison shutoff notices, Equity union challenges, New York City building code violations, and other obstacles. Despite all, La Mama has had a continuous run from 1961 to the present in changing locations.

It has a phenomenal group of alumni whose talent and success reflect the brilliant, germinal nature of the place. It has been host to some of the most awful and some of the most wonderful theatre in the last four decades. When it is good it is very, very good and when it is bad it is horrid. The alumni include: Robert De Niro, Jean-Claude van Itallie, Harvey Fierstein, Nick Nolte, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shephard, Jerzy Grotowski, Harvey Keitel, Philip Glass, Elizabeth Swados, Tom O'Horgan, Billy Crystal, F. Murray Abraham, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Andre Serban, Ping Chong , Meredith Monk and Theodora Skipitares. Of course there are many more.