Sometimes, a person singlehandedly builds the infrastructure for artistic creativity and innovation. We lost such a person yesterday. I only met Ellen Stewart once, in the mid 1980s. I was working with Paul Zimet’s company, The Talking Band, and we were producing at LaMama. When an older African American woman with long white/blond hair came in I knew immediately who she was. She was friendly, a little loud, and after greeting us, left us to get on with our work. Stewart’s contribution to the development of experimental theatre and to the kind of downtown east Village culture in which I was lucky enough to mature can’t really be catalogued. The NY Times notes that “For Ms. Stewart a vast number of [more than 3,000 productions of classic and postmodern drama, performance art, dance and chamber opera] were leaps of faith, arising from her instinct and belief that what artists need more than anything else is the freedom to create without interference.” She was unique. Nobody will fill her shoes, but perhaps our next generation of arts leaders will have the courage to take the Ellen Stewart style leaps of faith needed to provide innovative artists with opportunities.
(PS. Randy Gener has written a lovely, and lengthier, tribute on his blog, if you’d like to read more)