23 June 2012

La Mama Ellen

I wrote a reflection on this poem and revised it slightly on Summer Solstice, June 20, 2014.  Find it HERE!


International innovator Ellen Stewart died at the age of 91 in 2011.
"Ellen Stewart was a global citizen before anybody invented that identity as a way of being in the world. She staked a powerful claim on multiculturalism, intercultural thinking and multi-ethnic casting before any of these postures had acquired the patina of a fashionable movement dynamic.  Stewart herself credited Joseph Cino for starting the Off-Off-Broadway movement—but if Cino was the father of Off-Off-Broadway, Stewart was the mother. In building her Greenwich Village coffeehouse, Café LaMaMa—which morphed to become the world-famous La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club—our Mama welcomed huddled masses of artists yearning to breathe theatre. . . . "     
—Randy Gener from "Viva La Mama." TCG.



La Mama Ellen
           
                    by Susan L. Chast, 22 June 2012


They say that she cannot be summed up,
this high Catholic Sagittarius of legend
who thrived on drama and controversy.

That no matter where she cooked the brew
she served in the east ventricle of New York City,
she pumped its blood through the veins of ancient
civilizations and innovative fashion.

That she was a diplomat of the United Nations
who used theatre, music, and dance to prove
that borders can be crossed and that making
art together can change the world.

That she was beautiful, challenging, helpful,
difficult, stubborn, impossible, a genius,
an innovator, an imitator, an opportunist,
an opportunity, a seer.

And to her student-scholar, her shadow for a brief 20 months 
out of her life of nineteen hundred and ninety four:

She was a Mentor of quantum possibility 
She was a Mama who just knew
that I had energy to collaborate toward
common goals as well as to interpret
that I had time to watch and learn
as well as to record and analyze
that rehearsal breaks were for tasks
and not for naps.

She was Producer, Director,  Designer
and a cleaning woman who taught that we make the room
by cleaning walls and bathrooms and floor boards
because we respect the space and those who walk in it.

This was her secret and her bottom line: Occupation 
and Sharing of Space--Say what you must, but keep the space; 
Defend who you must but do not give up the space; 
Occupy the ground first and then play with definitions 
and remember that if peepee and poopoo is all 
that they can hear, then it is all that they deserve

Place was her gift.  We will not be dis-placed.



Ellen Stewart surrounded by her "babies" at a production meeting in her apartment in 1970.  Photo Credit: from Theatre Communications Group for LaMaMa 50th Anniversary in 2011 who have it courtesy of La MaMa Archive.  


This was the original last verse, cut by the poet: 
I have never forgotten to own and occupy the space, to empower myself and others through this oh-so-natural and necessary first step:  First comes Eden and only after, if you invite in the snake, can you call it Hell, and better yet--engage that snake in the work and in the play, open the snake eyes,  let it join in and cross the border. 

 Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast


Thank you Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads! 
This is a real toad--a poem that has been in my mind since my dissertation research in 1989-90--pulled out of my history by yesterday's challenge "Fireblossom Friday ~ Get Famous."   Thank you Ellen Stewart and thank you Fireblossom, for helping me to celebrate her life
Susan
23 June 2012




21 comments:

hedgewitch said...

This is an excellent piece, Susan. Thanks for introducing me to someone whose fame never penetrated my limited cultural sphere, and for pinpointing just why she was important to you, and hence, to us--I especially loved the language in the fourth, sixth and final stanzas, and the narrative, strong and well-paced, throughout.

Brian Miller said...

smiles...very cool...great too for the time that you were able to spend with her...but more so for the impact that is obviously had on you as well...i like her respect of space and the play on place and her not being dis-placed as well...

Sreeja said...

Such a beautiful poem...not just the write but the life you have pictured so well....you are lucky to be with such a person....

Susan said...

Thank you, Hedgewitch! It somehow suffered its way out of me. I think she would have liked it. But are we really ever totally free to write about the living?

Kerry O'Connor said...

I love the terminology you used in this stanza - so cleverly referencing the heart of the city:

That no matter where she cooked the brew
she served in the east ventricle of New York City,
she pumped its blood through the veins of ancient
civilizations and innovative fashion..

This was a most interesting look at a fascinating woman ahead of her times.

Daydreamertoo said...

She sounds like a wonderful woman to be around and to learn from. Some people just ooze with positive flowing energy and vibes. She definitely sounds as if she was a woman before her time and that she shone her light on whomever she encountered. It's a fabulous thing when someone has such a positive influence over us that it is remembered years afterwards in that same strength and light.
What a lovely tribute you paid her too.

Susan said...

Thank you for liking my words.

(For the record, I did NOT call you sexist, and--as I said in my comment on your latest poem--I do understand that men need to talk to each other.)

Susan said...

Thank you. I was very lucky indeed.

Susan said...

I am glad you liked the Village as the Heart of NY and (maybe) the world. That was fun. She was amazing.

Susan said...

Yes, you speak my mind--though you must know that Ellen was also shrewd and a strategic anarchist which made life hard at times. It doesn't matter, she never claimed to be perfect.

manicddaily said...

Thanks so much, Susan. I lived on Mott and Houston in the late 70's and early 80's and went to La Mama and had friends performing etc. She was an amazing pioneer; what a great thesis and so wonderful that you wrote about her now. k.

Susan said...

I had hoped someone who read this also had been there! It had to be you! Of course, you know the magic of the mountain forests as well, and the river and probably the Clearwater. Thank you! Irony that it took going to school in California, to discover LaMaMa in NYC, isn't it?

Hannah said...

Wow!! Susan! These are such great reflections and memories on such an amazing person!!

I love this:

"she pumped its blood through the veins of ancient
civilizations and innovative fashion;"

So raw and real and this:

"who used theatre, music, and dance to prove
that borders can be crossed and that making
art together can change the world;

That she was beautiful, challenging, helpful,
difficult, stubborn, impossible, a genius,
an innovator, an imitator, an opportunist,
an opportunity, a seer."

This section really resonated with me and gave me such a clear picture of what Mama was really like!

Great writing, Susan, truly!!

Archna Sharma said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this time. I can feel her still frame, the hold in her own place, her pull on the universe. How sacred to share a youthful experience with a woman of such strength and grace. Susan, I encourage you to 'keep the space'. Many blessings. :)

Susan said...

Thank you for these praises! for telling me what resonates!

Susan said...

I will, Archna, thank you for the blessings. I'm glad that you know what that could be like, and that you can feel the miracle of this person.

Jinksy said...

The fourth stanza does it for me! Who could want more fame than a list like that?

Fireblossom said...

Someone who lived "outside the lines" (and borders) for sure. Thanks for this look at someone I was not familiar with, and for being a part of FBF!

Susan said...

Including its contradictions? A woman after my own heart!

Susan said...

Thank you for FBF! Your prompt came at the right moment. I knew wars couldn't be written about until they had been processed for about 20 years, but Ellen? There are layers here having to do with rejected books and denial of tenure and rebuilding self-esteem--Maybe in another 20 years I will turn this stone over too. Thank you!

Marian said...

excellent, excellent! i've been schooled. thank you!