Jan 16, 2021

Coffeehouse Chronicles Revisited: Ellen Stewart

Curated by Michal Gamily

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Coffeehouse Chronicles Revisited will stream Coffeehouse Chronicles #155 that celebrated Ellen Stewart's 100th birthday the way MaMa loved it with music, dance and puppets. This event was originally streamed on November 2, 2019 in the Ellen Stewart Theatre in the East Village.

The celebration features recorded personal memories from artists all over the world. Great Jones Repertory Company remounts scenes from Ellen's shows including Mythos Oedipus, Antigone, Hercules and Asclepius. Rod Rodgers Dance Company performs scenes from The Cotton Club with a live band. Puppeteers Jane Catherine Shaw and Vit Horejs  perform two live scenes based on the Pushcart story and Ellen's early days. Two animated films are shown by Tom Lee and Naama Zarfaty with documentary excerpts of Ellen's last show by Marybeth Ward.

The Great Jones Repertory will perform a scene from Mythos Oedipus
and few songs from Perseus, Asclepius and Antigone
all directed by Ellen Stewart

Great Jones Musicians:
Michael Sirotta, Yukio Tsuji, Heather Paauwe, Bill Ruyle

Great Jones Performers:
Maureen Fleming, George Drance, Valois Mickens, Onni Johnson, Shigeko Suga, Allison Hiroto, Sara Galassini, Zishan Ugurlu,
Cary Gant, Rafael Alfonso, Eugene de Poogene, Federico Restrepo, Stephan Kolbert, Maria Elena Anaya

Rod Rodgers Dance Company Performers:
Cécilia Daninthe, Jendaya Dash, Jamia Nicole Jordan, Nami Kagami, Lauren Sion & vocals by Jamal Green
Ellen Stewart's original “Satin Doll” choreography re-staged and mounted by Kim Grier-Martinez

The Band performing Satin Doll:
Richard Cohen, Harry Mann, Ohad Kapuya

Photo by Vernon Smith, 1972


Ellen Stewart was a dress designer when she started La MaMa in a basement apartment in 1961, a woman entirely without theater experience or even much interest in the theater. But within a few years, and with an indomitable personality, she had become a theater pioneer.

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 in the East Village of Manhattan and creating the capital of what became known as Off Off Broadway.

She was a vivid figure, often described as beautiful — an African-American woman whose long hair, frequently worn in cornrows, turned silver in her later years. Her wardrobe was flamboyant, replete with bangles, bracelets and scarves. Her voice was deep, carrying an accent reminiscent of her Louisiana roots.

Few producers could match her energy, perseverance and fortitude. In the decades after World War II her influence on American theater was comparable to that of Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, though the two approached the stage from different wings. Papp straddled the commercial and noncommercial worlds, while Ms. Stewart’s terrain was international and decidedly noncommercial.

Her theater became a remarkable springboard for an impressive roster of promising playwrights, directors and actors who went on to accomplished careers both in mainstream entertainment and in push-the-envelope theater.

Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Diane Lane and Nick Nolte were among the actors who performed at La MaMa in its first two decades. Playwrights like Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Maria Irene Fornes and Adrienne Kennedy developed early work there. So did composers like Elizabeth Swados, Philip Glass and Stephen Schwartz. (read more)

ARTHUR ADAIR As playwright/director, original, musically-charged works of “total theatre,” Your War’try Grave; Manifest the Whale, the Teacup Destiny; & Sound of the Sun, and “classically-contemporized” staged adaptations, Euripides’ Bacchae; Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters (translation); & Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. Award-winning designer, Set (Innovative Theatre Award/NYC); Light (B. Iden Payne/ATX). At La MaMa, Great Jones Repertory Member since 1999, Artist-in-Residence (97-07), present Education Outreach Coordinator for the Off Off Broadway history series, Coffeehouse Chronicles. Membership: Stage Directors & Choreographers Society; Actors’ Equity Association; Dramatist Guild of America; Assistant Professor Queensborough Community College/CUNY.

MARIA ELENA ANAYA is a dancer, teacher and choreographer of Spanish Dance. Born in Mexico City, began her career in Spanish dance at the early age of three. She has performed at the most important venues throughout Mexico and since 1994 at La MaMa NY and Spoleto in ten seasons. She has been a teacher and choreographer since 1995 at the National Dance School of the Fine Arts Institute of Mexico.

RICHARD COHEN specializes in woodwind instruments, and keyboard. He has composed music for his original show “A Full Blown Blast” and “Paraskevidekatriaphobia (Fear of Friday the 13th). Also opera “La Ribalta”. He composed for Theater For A New Audience, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. He was a member of the Peter Brook International Theatrical Research Co. where he first met Liz Swados, a lasting influence for so many people. At La MaMa he was a member of the ETC Co (“Carmilla”, “Renard”, others); and Great Jones Rep. (“Greek Trilogy”). He did productions of Shakespeare for the Public Theater, also “Mother Courage” both with music by Bill Elliot. He performed in “The Cherry Orchard” music by Liz Swados directed by Andrei Serban at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. He was a member of Steve Reich and Musicians and recorded the now historic and seminal album “Music For 13 Musicians”. Also such Broadway shows as Pirates of Penzance, Sweeney Todd, Annie. PBS Great Performances of “Crazy For You”.

GEORGE DRANCE George Drance: at La MaMa and in Great Jones since 1996. Over fifteen shows with Ellen Stewart, and more than twenty with Liz Swados. Member of the Trojan Women Project team. Artistic Director Magis Theatre (magistheatre.org) presenting Shakuntala, *mark, and Calderon’s Two Dreams at La MaMa. Other credits include The Public/NYSF, ART, Metropolitan Opera, and The Daily Show. Artist-in-Residence at Fordham Universtiy Lincoln Center. (georgedrance.com)

MAUREEN FLEMING is renowned for her original form of visual theater. With the discipline of a classicist and the imagination of an iconoclast Fleming connects cultures and art forms in an interdisciplinary celebration of femininity and the universality of the soul’s journey. A Fulbright Scholar to Ireland, S. Korea, Colombia and Latvia, her solo and group works have toured spanning five continents including the Spoleto Festival in Italy, FILO Festival Brazil, Performing America’s Tour Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay, the O’ Shaughnessy Women of Substance Series in St. Paul, Jacob’s Pillow Festival, Emerson Majestic and Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and NY City Center Fall for Dance Festival. “She appeared to transcend the material world and enter the realm of pure spirit…wondrous choreographic metamorphosis.” ~The New York Times

Sara Galassini is an Italian interdisciplinary artist, performer, community project facilitator and certified sound healing practitioner working in NYC and with La MaMa for nearly 20 years. Together with award-winning composer/musician Yukio Tsuji she is the founder of the Sara Galas Band. They have released the album HER and created five interdisciplinary theater performances: Waves of all times, Origin: a Performance Art Concert, Unmeasurable Picture, REFLECT-I-ON, Pros-Her-Pere (www.saragalasband.org).

CARY GANT has been a proud member of GJRC since 2001. shows incl: Seven Against Thebes, Oedipus, Antigone, Medea, Hercules, The Raven, Poseidon,Trojan Woman, Asclepius among others. Happy 100th celestial birthday Mama Oracle. Luv always.

ALLISON HIROTO is pleased to be with her La MaMa family to celebrate Ellen. In addition to performing with the Great Jones Rep in New York and abroad, Allison is also an award winning voice over artist. She has performed with other resident La MaMa companies including Loco7 Dance Puppet Theatre and Yara Arts Group and co-curated a series of events at La MaMa to honor Japanese-Americans incarcerated during WWII. La MaMa holds a special place in her heart, and with immense gratitude, “Thank you, Ellen, for your wisdom, energy, and love!”

VÍT HOŘEJŠ director, puppeteer and author, came to New York in 1979 and toured t he world with Ta Fantastika Black Light Theatre during the ‘80s. In 1984, Vít found a treasure trove of 69 marionettes, aged 80 to 180, at Jan Hus Church in Manhattan. He founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in 1990. Vít has translated, written, adapted and directed a dozen plays for CAMT, now a resident company at La MaMa. On screen, he was Krojack in Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water. Published works include Twelve Iron Sandals (Prentice-Hall, 1985), Pig and Bear (Four Winds/Macmillan, 1989, Dutch translation, 1990). Thank you Ellen, it was a privilege to work with you.

ONNI JOHNSON did her first show at La MaMa in 1973 and is an original member of the Great Jones Repertory Company. She is now director of the Trojan Women Project and very much looking forward to the Trojan Women Project Festival at La MaMa (December 5-15, 2019) when artists from Guatemala, Cambodia and Kosovo will join GJR for performances, workshops, discussions…….Don’t miss it!

OHAD KAPUYA is an Israeli born upright and electric bass player. Ohad started playing instruments at the age of 5 when he asked his parents to play the violin, And changed several instruments before settling on bass. Ohad has been in music programs starting junior high, where he first got experience in playing bass in ensemble, carrying through high school with the music program set in collaboration between Rimon school of music and “tichon hadash herzeliya” run by drummer and vocalist Iris Portugaly. He continued his musical education in CJS, a conservatory with a program in collaboration with the New School of Jazz for two years, where he studied with bassists Gilad Abro and Avri Borochov, and then got a scholarship to the New School where he currently studies with teachers such as Buster Williams, Reggie Workman and more.

STEPHAN W KOLBERT is thrilled to be celebrating Ellen for her 100th. His work with her and Great Jones Rep in the early 2000s are cherished memories for him. He is grateful to have been introduced to this amazing group of people.

TOM LEE is a puppet artist, designer and director. His work often explores the synthesis of manipulated objects, miniatures and puppets with the language of film and animation. Mr. Lee began his career at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York and studied traditional puppetry in Japan as an NEA/TCG fellow. In Japan, he met Koryu Nishikawa V, fifth generation master of the kuruma ningyō (cart puppetry) tradition. Lee and Nishikawa collaborated on Shank’s Mare, fusing kuruma ningyō with Western puppetry techniques and technology. Shank’s Mare has toured around the world after its La MaMa premiere and will performed in Paris this December at Musée du quai Branly. Tom Lee has designed sets, projections and puppets for numerous companies, including Dan Hurlin’s Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed, Stephen Earnhart’s stage adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Lost Garden, an original Korean musical performed at Shanghai’s Mercedes- Benz Arena, and Buried Alive!, a collaboration with Chicago puppet artist Blair Thomas. Mr. Lee creates his own original puppet theatre works, including Ko’olau, Shank’s Mare and place (no) place, which have received support from the Jim Henson Foundation. An accomplished puppeteer, Tom appeared in the Tony-award winning Broadway production of War Horse, and has performed in Petrusha and Le Grande Macabre (NY Philharmonic), La Divina Caricartura (Lee Breuer/ La MaMa) and Hiroshima Maiden and Disfarmer (Dan Hurlin). He is a principal puppeteer in Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Lee taught puppetry and design at Sarah Lawrence College from 2005 – 2015 and was the 2018 Wirtz Visiting Artist at Northwestern University. Tom Lee is co-director of the Chicago Puppet Studio with Blair Thomas. www.tomleeprojects.com

HARRY MANN was a member of Sam Shepard’s performance ensemble for four years at the Magic Theater in San Francisco. Performing in Angel City, Inacoma, Suicide in B Flat and Tongues/Savage Love. Mann is a theater musician who has composed and performed with music artists: Ray Charles, Cecil Taylor, Butch Morris; theater innovators: Sam Shepard, Joe Chaikin, Ann Bogart, the Talking Band; puppeteers: Ralph Lee, and Janie Geiser; choreographers: Eva Dean, Ann Hammel, Wendy Osserman, and the Dance Theatre of Toronto. He is the co-leader of the jazz duo Gorilla My Love, with Neal Kirkwood; and performance duo Micro Stories, with actress Clea Rivera.

VALOIS MARIE MICKENS, born and raised in Washington D.C., studied fine art at Parsons School of Design and graduated from Marymount Manhattan College. She has been a member of Great Jones Rep. Since its inception in the 70’s, creating roles such ad Cassandra in “Trojan Women”, Chrisothemis in “Electra”, and doing a turn as the Nurse in “Medea”. “I thank God for Ellen, enabling me get an apartment and being able to take my son with me on the many tours around the world. WHAT AN EDUCATION!!!”

HEATHER PAAUWE is a versatile musician who performs classical and historically-informed music. She performs regularly at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, and Royal Albert Hall. Also active in theater and dance, Heather backs artists in Europe and Asia with her compositions and improvisations. She is eternally grateful to Mama Ellen Stewart who gave her and other artists a home at La MaMa Theater and taught her to fly.

eugene the poogene was an astronaut before he was a performer and was instrumental in the setting up of space station STS-111 (along with other members of Expedition Three), now famous for their work on the Biomass Production System. In his spare time, he likes to sit in the dark and repeat the word “larvae”. eugene the poogene loves Ellen Stewart, all of his beautiful friends, family, directors, teachers so much it’s sick.  approach every stranger with compassion- we all have more in common than we do differences.  thanks to motes, lamams, and my great jones fam whom without i am just a piece of poo stuck to the hair on my dogs butt”

RAFAEL ALFONSO QUIÑONES, also known as Benjamin Marcantoni, is a dramatic countertenor, singing actor, vocal technician, professor, teacher, composer, musical director and songwriter who found a home in the 90’s at La MaMa E.T.C. under the loving embrace of the Great Jones Rep. Co. and Ellen Stewart’s fierce patronage. These days he teaches privately in Berkeley, CA and is a regular singer at St. Mary’s Cathedral,principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, where he just gave a concert last month with organist Jin Kyung Lim.

FEDERICO RESTREPO was born in Bogotá, Colombia and founded his company, Loco7, at La MaMa in 1986 to expand the use of puppetry in dance theater. With Loco7 he has created over sixteen original productions, acting as creator, director and designer. As a performer Mr. Restrepo appeared at La MaMa as a member of the Great Jones Repertory Company in Ellen Stewart’s The Raven, Asclepius, Herakles Via Phaedra, Perseus, Antigone, Mythos Oedipus, Dionysus Fillus Dei, Monk and The Hangman’s Daughter, Seven Against Thebes an d Draupai. He is a a resident choreographer, director, puppet designer, and performer of La MaMa. As a choreographer his credits include all Loco7 productions and Souls Acending, Everything is Different, Counting Coup; El Alquimista; Un Arco Iris de Navidad; Homage to Garcia Lorca at his 100thbirthday; Desvarios; Ilusiones of a Magician; Declaracion de Amor a Bogota, Integrating the Arts Show; Quixote o la Maquina del Disparate; Lili Blue y sus Hermanos. He recently received two NYSCA Individual Artist Grants in light design for New Stage Theatre. He has designed lights for productions in NYC as well as abroad.

BILL RUYLE has been a percussionist/composer/collaborator in NYC and abroad for over forty years. He has played in the ensembles of Peter Zummo, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Bill Obrecht, Scott Johnson, Steve Elson, Bob Een, Phillip Jonston, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Bob Een, Naaz Hosseini, The Feetwarmers, The Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Last Forever with Dick Connette and Sonya Cohen, Newband, The Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Bear 54 and Mitra Sumara. He played hammered dulcimer and percussion for the Broadway show Spiderman: Turn off the Dark among many other fine projects. He was one of the original musicians for the La MaMa production of The Trojan Women in 1974 and is currently working on the production of The Trojan Women Festival coming to La MaMa in December 2019.

JANE CATHERINE SHAW is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and graduated on the Dean’s List with an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. She is curator of La MaMa’s Puppet Slam. Ms. Shaw was puppetry co-director and master pup peteer for Mabou Mines’ Peter And Wendy and built and directed the puppetry sequence for Lee Breuers’ Dollhouse. She often worked with Ellen Stewart to re-create costumes from historic La MaMa shows from the 60’s and 70’s. Ms. Shaw was nominated for a 2014 New York Innovative Theatre Award for her work with Theodora Skipitares on The Chairs. She creates and directs her own work for puppet theatre, many of which premiered at La MaMa. She has worked with Theodora Skipitares since they met in 1 989, helping to build her shows and puppets, and puppeteering in many of her productions. She is a member of the La MaMa Kids Committee, helping to grow sophisticated, age appropriate theatrical work, and workshops for young audiences.

SHIGEKO SARA SUGA A member of The Great Jones Repertory since 1989 has appeared in over 140 theatrical productions internationally and nationally. She has also directed her own Butoh-Flamenco shows in the past. Recent credits include: NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA documentary at New Vision International Film Festival in Amsterdam (Sept 2019) as well as Berkeley Video & Film Festival (Nov 2019), THE YEAR OF OX, KEEP WARM, FRESH AIR (Boston Film Festival, April 2019), TOURISTS OF LIMBO and a few other short SAG films as principal. www.shigekosuga.com

MICHAEL SIROTTA has performed and composed music for La MaMa productions in New York and on tour for 38 years. He was Ellen Stewart’s musical director for shows she created from 1984 until her death in 2011 including JERUSALEM, MYTHOS OEDIPUS, ANOTHER PHAEDRA VIA HERCULES, THE MONK AND THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, DIONYSUS FILIUS DEI, SEVEN AGAINST THEBES, PABO & RUISA, QUEEN SETSU, AENEAS, ANTIGONE, PERSEUS, HERAKLES VIA PHAEDRA, AESCLEPIUS, Il CORVO (The Raven) and DIANA. More recently, he composed and directed the music for the Great Jones Repertory Company’s production of Palo Pasolini’s PYLADE. Mr. Sirotta was musical director for the 1985 Washington, D.C. production of Elizabeth Swados’ THE BEAUTIFUL LADY, which won the first annual Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play that year and is to be revived this coming Spring at La MaMa.

YUKIO TSUJI (Composer, Shakuhachi player, Percussionist) He has been working as a composer and as a performer for more than 200 productions over the years. He worked with Estelle Parsons, Ellen Stewart, the late Jerome Robins, Julie Taymor, Sir Peter Hall, the late John Dexter, Andrei Serban, Elizabeth Swados and many other major theater directors. He has been the house composer/musician at La MaMa ETC for over twenty five years and he performed on Ellen Stewart’s famous “MEDEA” ,”ELECTRA” “TROJAN WOMEN” “SEVEN” and countless numbers of productions since 1980. He composed more than twenty five hours of music for Kei Takei’s “Moving Earth” Dance Company alone. He composed and performed on Broadway production “ SALOME “ with Al Pacino, directed by Estelle Parsons. Co-arranged and performed on Broadway Production “M.BUTERFLY”, composed and performed on the title music of the movie “ YEAR OF THE DRAGON”. “TRANSPOSED HEAD” directed by Julie Taymor, 9 Acts Production “ TANTALAS “ directed by Sir Peter Hall with Royal Shakespeare Company. “WATERMIL” Directed by Jerome Robins with New York City Ballet. “Window of The City” of Shanghai Expo. And he is a member of New York based group “SaraGalas Band” with Sara Galassini.

MIA YOO became La MaMa’s Artistic Director in 2009.  La MaMa’s founder, Ellen Stewart, mentored Mia as an arts leader under the auspices of Theatre Communications Group’s New Generations Future Leaders Program, cooperatively designed by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Mia assisted Ellen for over twenty years and has been a member of the Great Jones Repertory Company since 1996.  As a member of the Great Jones Rep, Mia has performed in many shows, including Fragments of a Greek Trilogy and Mythos Oedipus. She also acted in Andrei Serban’s Pericles at the American Repertory Theatre, and in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Tantalus. In 2006, along with Nicky Paraiso, Mia created the La MaMa Moves! dance festival.

NAAMA ZARFATY Animation director and Animator, originally from Tel Aviv, now based in Berlin. “When I was 15 yearsold, Ellen Stewart put a paint brush in my hand cause my singing was too bad for participating in the Spoleto show. She asked me to paint her some flowers, and I keep on doing so ever since.I animate stuff! Check out my web www.zarfatynaama.com or @__naamaza__

GREAT JONES REPERTORY COMPANY is an Obie-winning company known for their experimental productions of Greek tragedy that employ classical elements, unique visual, design and performance styles, world music, and movement. Started in 1972 by Ellen Stewart, Andrei Serban, and Elizabeth Swados, Great Jones Rep is an intergenerational, culturally-diverse ensemble of artists, actors, designers, and musicians whose works such as Antigone, Seven Against Thebes, Mythos Oedipus, Fragments of a Greek Trilogy and most recently Pylade, remain a significant part of La MaMa’s history.

ROD RODGERS DANCE COMPANY (RRDC) came into existence during the 1960’s when many artists were called upon to create works that reflected newly positive community consciousness. It began with the late Founding Director Rod Rodgers’ belief that dance images reflecting truths about human experience have the unique ability to touch people on a primal level of “feeling identity”. The company’s repertoire, featuring works created by Mr. Rodgers and company Artistic Director Kim Grier-Martinez since his passing as well as Guest Artists, encompasses experimental works, celebrative jazz ballets, Dance Theater as dramatic social commentary, and an acclaimed signature series of contemporary Rhythmdances that have been recognized as being unique in the modern dance field. Often featuring dance works inspired by Black experience, but always with a multi-racial ensemble. The company offers comprehensive training at their studios with classes in a variety of techniques and styles at their 62 E. 4th St. building on the on the same block with Ellen Stewart Theatre. The company’s home base for 30+ years is now is where Mr. Rod Rodgers met Ellen Stewart. The company had several collaborations with La Mama including the well known and celebrated Premiere of “Quest” a dance tribute to Malcolm X in the 1990’s. www.rodrodgersdance.org
Founding Director: Rod Rodgers; Artistic Director: Kim Grier Martinez; Executive Director: Jason Rodgers; General Manager: Rachel Lubell; Lighting & Technical Director: Ulric O’Flaherty

Coffeehouse Chronicles


Coffeehouse Chronicles is an educational performance series exploring the history of Off-Off-Broadway. Part artist-portrait, part history lesson, and part community forum, Coffeehouse Chronicles take an intimate look at the development of downtown theatre, from the 1960s’ “Coffeehouse Theatres” through today.

Online Happenings


Presented by La MaMa and CultureHub, La MaMa is exploring ways to respond creatively to a situation that is potentially changing how we gather as a community in our theatres. La MaMa is working with CultureHub to provide online streaming of select productions and events on Howlround Theatre Commons.

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