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Remembering George Ferencz

Portrait of George Ferencz, a man with grey and black hair wearing a dark striped button-down shirt with a collar. His left hand is outstretched as he's saying something.
a black arrow pointing downward

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of La MaMa’s beloved Resident Director, George Ferencz. Ellen Stewart loved George, as we do.


“BUILD ME A BOAT”—Rest in Peace George Ferencz

I have had many mentors in my life but none more important or influential than George Ferencz, the “brilliant and fiercely talented stage director” as his equally talented and lovely wife Sally so aptly called him. George’s passing brings up many memories, and of course, difficult feelings, but George’s lasting legacy lives on with me, and so many others, in my own fierce determination to succeed with the work that he and I began many years ago and that I continue to pursue to its highest level and in its most intriguing form.

I first met George at La MaMa Etc in 2007 through Ellen Stewart who had approached George about directing my play “The Honor and Glory of Whaling”—the title play in my trilogy of plays dealing with the issues of commercial fishing, opiate addiction and Moby Dick. It was a huge undertaking and the pinnacle of my pursuits as a playwright to that point, and I knew I needed somebody “serious”. Somebody with some clout. And somebody who connected me to my own inspirations and idols, namely Sam Shepard, whose OBIE award winning play “The Tooth of Crime”, George had famously directed, along with many other works of Sam’s at La MaMa.

“You know”, George said when I first met him after he had read my play, “There’s something exotic about it. I’ve seen drugs, I’ve seen sex—I mean real sex—onstage, I’ve seen everything, but I’ve never seen a fishing boat. Build me a boat.” And so I did, on Christmas Day, less than a week before the show’s opening. It was no easy task for either a playwright or a builder, but George was not about easy tasks. He was about getting at the thing that would make the play work. And he was right. On opening night the boat! got a standing ovation. And Ellen beamed, “Everybody loves that boat!”

I have been building that boat ever since, in one shape or form, and Captaining it to many ports and greater recognition, with its most recent installation in Rockland Maine, on the working waterfront, home of The Forty Hour Club, for the premiere of “Never Leaving this Boat”—(Fragments of a Blues Opera) on September 11 & 12, days before George’s passing. Timely? Who knows. But the idea of turning my trilogy of plays into a “Blues Opera” was a brilliant one, everybody seems to agree, and guess whose it was? But that’s a story for another occasion.

George, you’ve been the wind in my sails and the ballast in my hold with this project and I’m going to keep steering it toward the horizon under your guidance … toward Broadway and New Bedford … and I’m gonna get there, George … I’m gonna get there. Because I’m the son of one of the fiercest directors to ever walk this planet. Amen.

— Michael Gorman, playwright


The New York Times — George Ferencz, Innovative Theater Director, Dies at 74

Deadline — George Ferencz Dies: Off Broadway Director Of Seminal Works By Sam Shepard, Amiri Baraka & Others Was 74

Playbill — In the News: Remembering George Ferencz

Broadway World — Longtime Downtown Theater Director George Ferencz Passes Away at 74

TheaterMania — Innovative Theater Director George Ferencz Dies at 74

Image (above) of George Ferencz
Image (first row, left) of George Ferencz (right) and Tom O'Horgan
Image (first row, center) of George Ferencz with George Gruntz and Virlana Tkacz
Image (first row, right) of Sam Shepard's Tooth of Crime (1983) directed by George Ferencz at La MaMa. Raul Aranas (left) and Ray Wise (right)
Image (second row, left) of Sam Shepard's Tooth of Crime (1983) directed by George Ferencz at La MaMa with Ray Wise
Image (second row, center) of an unknown production at La MaMa directed by George Ferencz
Image (second row, right) of Beatrice Manley's Conjur Woman (2008) directed by George Ferencz at La MaMa

Tom (left) is wearing a hat and blue jacket and holding a cane, and George (right) is smiling with his arms crossed and wearing a black shirt and a red patterned sweater vest.
Three artists sitting in folding chairs at a table in a studio
One actor (left) with a beard is wearing a white suit and holding a syringe, another actor (right) wearing a black shirt and red tie is looking at the syringe
An actor with a shocked expression wearing suspenders and an unbuttoned black collared shirt tucked into leather pants
Five actors, one standing with an angry expression and four seated, one is turned away from the camera and drinking from a bottle