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La MaMa Experimental Theatre: a lasting bridge between cultures

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MariBet (La MaMa Experimental Theatre: a lasting bridge between cultures)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-09-30

This project is focused on the activity of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club of New York, founded in 1961 by fashion designer Ellen Stewart (1919-2011) in an old café on Manhattan Lower East Side, to give voice to artists marginalized by both the institutional theatres of Broadway and the Off-Broadway scene. In America, during the 60’s, Stewart conceived a theatre that could be a real place of collaboration, sharing and cohesion of different cultures; a theatre in which artists coming from all over the world could work together taking advantage of their various languages and cultures. She conceived theatre as a meeting and integration point, overcoming cultural and geo-political barriers, engaging artists and companies in a common artistical research. This was a very original approach to theatre promotion and production in a difficult historical period in which America was dealing with the Vietnam War, with racial, gender and drug issues. Stewart’s ideas spread out by exporting La MaMa productions all around the world, opening branches in different countries (e.g. Italy, England and Japan) and establishing relationships with the local theatres and citizens.
* Some key concepts used by La MaMa in those years, like ‘integration’ and ‘identity’, are still crucial today in its artistical research and activities, being it a place where artists of different generations and from all around the world can share their work and ideas. Nowadays it is one of the most important Off-Off-Broadway theatre, producing performances always addressed to current social issues urgent both in US and in Europe like immigration and welcoming migrants and refugees.

* Objectives
The first objective of the project is to fill the gap in the field of theatre studies with an in-depth and exhaustive study of the history of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club within the Avant-Garde theatre (1961-1975) and of a selection of its historical productions directed by Andrei Serban, the first director of La MaMa coming from Europe (1972-1974).
The second objective is to analyse the engagement of La MaMa in approaching relevant socio-political issues and promoting intercultural dialogues both in the past and in the present.
From December 2019 until Sepetmber 2021 I had been in New York City for the Outgoing Phase, hosted at The Martin E. Segal Theatre Centre - Graduate Centre CUNY.
At the beginning of 2020, I conducted the research work at La MaMa's Archive in New York. I gathered information through the consultation of reviews, correspondences, photographs, videos, articles that tell the history of La MaMa. Also, I consulted some documents at the Brooklyn Music Academy Archive, at the NYPL Performing Arts Division, at the Kent State University Archive and at the Odin Teatret Archive.
Subjects of the research were the collaboration of La MaMa with European Artists; the European Tours of La MaMa in 1965-1968; the contacts of some La MaMa's companies with European Artists and their collaboration in the past; the Greek tragedies staged by Andrei Serban and Elizabeth Swados (1972-1974); the influence of European directos on La MaMa's companies.
About present, I focused my research on 'The Trojan Women Project' (2015-2019) and on 'Weather#', produced in 2021. They are projects based on the sharing of culture and the collaboration between artists coming from all over the world, focused on the main objective of Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa in 1961.
Results of the two years of research were disseminated giving speeches at International Conferences (I participated to the Internatonal Federation of Theatre Research conference, Galway 2021, and to a conference organized by Universitè La Sorbonne, Paris 2020), and through articles in scientific journals.
I have started the organization of an International conference entitled 'The rise of new theatre and the theatrical avant-garde: meetings and influences across boundaries (1948-1981)', that is planned at University of Verona in May 2022.
This research is essential for the theatrical studies because it fills a relevant gap in the history of theatre of the 20th Century: La MaMa contribution to the theatre reform within the Avant-Garde movement.

MariBet brought important details on the history of La MaMa and its activities in the past. By analysing the work of some companies in the Sixties and Seventies, it has been traced a map of contacts among la MaMa's artists and important European directors such as Eugenio Barba and Peter Brook, and brought to light the influence of the European theatre on the development of the Off-Off Broadway acting and training.
Also emerged how Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa, was essential in encouraging the sharing of cultures in the past, and how her aims are still fundamental in the work of La MaMa. This is evident in two current projects that involve several artists coming from all over the world: 'The Trojan Women Project' and 'WEATHER#'.

The deepening about the Off-Off Broadway theatre higlighted its importance in the history of the American theatre and how it influenced the American Avant-Garde theatre development. Also emerged the importance of Ellen Stewart and La MaMa in introducing European artists and companies to the Americans. This new knowledge will fill a gap in the history of theatre and will bring a new perspective from which to look at the subject.
MariBet. Researching Theatre