La MaMa Archives: Not An Island

Here at the La MaMa Archives, we have a trove of items telling our history. The Archives houses a rich collection of posters, programs, flyers, reviews, photographs, audiovisual materials, puppets, costumes, props, and set pieces documenting the history of La MaMa and offering a glimpse into the work that the theatre has made possible over five decades.

But no archival collection is an island – La MaMa’s local and global influence means that its objects, like its experiences, are dispersed. As we’ve begun to create a catalog to describe the collection we house on-site, we’ve also been tracking the existence of La MaMa materials off-site. I recently took a dive down the rabbit hole of Google and WorldCat (a resource linking the catalogs of libraries and archives around the world) to track down collections at other institutions that have materials related to La MaMa, especially during its pushcart years (1962-1985), the time period of our cataloging project.

What I found was that La MaMa materials tend to be held in certain types of collections. One type is in the personal papers of individual playwrights and theatre artists who were connected to La MaMa in its early years, often located at their alma maters or universities in their home states. These materials typically include correspondence with Ellen Stewart, manuscripts for plays produced here, promotional materials, and sometimes photographs. Rutgers University in particular holds the collections of two people at the center of La MaMa’s early history: playwright Paul Foster and director Tom O’Horgan, who went on to bring his production of Hair to Broadway.

Unsurprisingly, institutions in and around NYC also hold a great deal of La MaMa-related materials. Outside of our building, the New York Public Library holds the largest collection of materials about La MaMa. Two of its research branches, the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture together have nearly ten collections documenting the experiences of board members, playwrights, educational program directors, and photographers involved with La MaMa.

Fales Library. Photo: lea simpson,

Fales Library. Photo: lea simpson,

And then there’s the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University. This collection offers a unique set of materials for researchers interested in La MaMa. The Downtown Collection includes the archive of Mabou Mines, a company in residency at La MaMa in the early years, and several collections of mailings and promotional materials sent to La MaMa supporters, including the letter that Ellen Stewart wrote immediately following 9/11. For my final project for my master’s degree in library science at Pratt Institute, I created an online exhibit of materials related to La MaMa found at Fales. You can take a look at the full exhibit here.

Finally, a number of institutions and theatres in France hold copies of typescripts of plays produced at La MaMa.

Here you will find the full list of repositories where we have found materials related to La MaMa outside of our own archive. This list will be continually updated as new collections are identified. If you know of any more, please contact us and we’ll include your findings in the list.

–Suzanne Lipkin

Find of the Day: Billy Crystal in “Ubu” and “Arden of Faversham”


Program for “Ubu” and “Arden of Faversham” (1970) [OBJ.1970.0046]

Here’s another one for the “famous people who got their start at La MaMa” files.

In 1970, Billy Crystal was a BFA student at New York University, having moved to the city to be with his future wife, Janice, after briefly attending Marshall University on a baseball scholarship. Before graduating and marrying that summer,  Crystal made his stage debut at La MaMa, performing in a double bill of shows directed by Andrei Serban, featuring Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu” and the Elizabethan “Arden of Haversham.”

In this excerpt from a NY Post article about  Crystal’s popular one-man Broadway show, “700 Sundays,” Crystal describes his first encounter with critic Clive Barnes: “I played a toy soldier with a tall red hat and rouge circles on my cheeks. Andrei [Serban] put me in a garbage can. I was a broken toy. And as I was sitting in that garbage can, the audience began to come in, and I saw Clive Barnes. And I thought, ‘Oh, no — this is not how we should meet.’”

In the program at left, take a look at Crystal’s first-ever theatrical billing (alongside a roster of La MaMa-stars), as Bill Crystal.

–Suzanne Lipkin