Ellen Stewart was one of the most important founders of the off-off Broadway movement, starting the La Mama Theater and giving birth to the non-commercial, artistically audacious and visionary theater that started the careers of artists as widely recognized as Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman. La Mama also gave writers such as Sam Shepard and Harvey Fierstein places to cut their teeth and develop new work as well as providing a first home for performers ranging from Al Paccino to Bette Midler.
The list goes goes on and Ellen Stewart’s legacy deserves a full article on its own. Tonight however, as the lights of Broadway dim for a whole minute in honor of her passing on the 13th of January, (just two days before Taylor Mac’s new play opened at the theater that bares her name) all the tourists in Times Square will share a moment of confusion on their way into whatever dreck they spent one-hundred plus dollars to see, involuntarily participating in a theatrical legacy that transcends the confines of their fluff and spectacle seeking minds. In the days of post-apocalyptic Broadway, this is perhaps the best that we can wish for.
Back downtown at La Mama, Taylor Mac‘s newest work, “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth“, has just premiered and some friends and I had the pleasure of seeing a bit earlier in the week. Although I’d heard about Taylor’s work for a long while, I hadn’t seen anything of his until I got to see the manifesto/extravaganza that was last year’s “The Lily’s Revenge.” Plainly put, that show changed my life. It is still, and may perhaps always be, the single most generous piece of theater I will ever take part in. When that work is re-mounted in San Francisco this spring and I go to see it, I will discuss it more and hopefully will have also contacted Mr. Mac and talked him into giving us an interview. In the meantime, we have his new play to enjoy and while it’s not as epic or multi-faceted as “Lily’s” was, it is something to be seen and celebrated just the same.