Paid Internship in the Archives of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club seeks applicants for a paid archives internship. This is a temporary, part-time, paid position working approximately 20 hours per week (exact schedule to be determined). The internship will start in late January and last through May 2018, with the possibility of an extension through August 2018.

The intern will support a new, grant-funded project designed to expand access to a unique set of video materials from La MaMa’s collections. (For more information about this grant-funded project, please visit pushcartcatalog.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/nhprc-grant/.) With supervision from the Manager of Digital and Special Projects, the intern will conduct research and use a range of descriptive standards and strategies to improve the discoverability of these materials via Wikipedia, WorldCat, and the Digital Public Library of America. The intern will also be invited to participate in other work – including education, outreach, and assessment, and virtual meetings with our partners at Bay Area Video Coalition and Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research.

$15/hour. Must be available to work weekdays.

The ideal candidate will be enrolled in a graduate program in information science, archives management, or a related area, and will have an interest in learning about community-engaged archival practice, innovative strategies in archival description and access, and theater history. The ideal candidate will also have exceptional research, writing, and communication skills, and some combination of the following:

  • Familiarity with and interest in learning about archival metadata standards and metadata harvesting;
  • Familiarity with and interest in learning about emerging practices for using Wikipedia and Wikidata to support improved discoverability of digital special collections;
  • Familiarity with and interest in moving image archival practice; and
  • Experience working in an archives or library.

To apply, please submit the following materials to rachel [at] lamama [dot] org by December 24, 2017:

  1. a cover letter containing information about your experience and interest in the position;
  2. a current resume; and
  3. the names and contact information for two professional references.
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Endangered Data and the Arts

Last month, from April 17-22, 2017 archivists, librarians, records managers, educators, and researchers marked the first-ever Endangered Data Week (EDW). Designed to highlight and provoke discussion about threats to the public availability of federal and local government datasets, the week featured a wide range of events – Twitter chats, data rescue harvests, data storytelling, data-scraping workshops, letter writing meet-ups, and panel discussions. Over the course of six days, approximately 17 universities and 8 professional organizations convened more than 50 events. As the organizer of a new Digital Library Federation (DLF) working group on Government Records Transparency and Accountability, I helped to organize the project and worked to convene a webinar on the subject of the Freedom of Information Act that formed a part of the week’s events.

EDW was originally the brainchild of Michigan State University’s Brandon Locke, and was sponsored by the DLF in partnership with DataRefuge, the Mozilla Science Lab, the Council on Library and Information Resources, the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. “There is good reason for concern about the ongoing availability and collection of data by US government agencies,” Locke wrote in a recent post in Perspectives (the online Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association). Not only has the new presidential administration signaled its opposition to open data and data-collecting initiatives (“most notably those concerning climate change”), Congress has also recently taken steps to restrict public records access. For instance, federal legislation has been introduced that would prohibit recipients of federal funds from creating, using, or providing access to geospatial databases that track “racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing” – language that, as Locke notes, could “hinder researchers’ efforts to “analyze changes in neighborhood demographics, urban development, policing, and the impact of redlining and other discriminatory housing policies.”

You might be wondering why an archivist who spends her days working in a performing arts archives is so invested in questions of government transparency, the Freedom of Information Act, and endangered data. I can think of a dozen ways to explain the source of my interest – but here I’d like to talk about just one of them: public records and data are very important to artists, arts organizations, arts journalists, arts funders, and arts scholars.

On one hand, arts organizations routinely rely on public data and records to inform their practice and to justify the importance of their work; public data informs arts administrators’ work in the areas of audience development, fundraising, public relations, infrastructure-building, and advocacy. To take a very hard-boiled example: government-collected data is routinely used to “quantify the broad ‘impact’ of the arts and culture sector in financial and programmatic terms” (as the cultural think-tank CreativeEquity recently put it). In other words, by documenting the ways in which arts programs drive local economies, contribute to youth development, and lead to lower crime rates, arts advocates give government agencies a bread-and-butter rationale for spending public money on arts programs. The 2015 Center for Urban Futures’ report on Creative New York, for example, relied on public data to document its finding that New York City’s economic engine is powered by artists and the creative sector. This finding has, in turn, been used to advocate for increased public spending on the arts in New York City. Funding for small arts organizations is often dependent on this kind of advocacy.

Funding for my home institution, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, has been shaped over the years by these sorts of data-driven advocacy efforts – as well as by data collection efforts designed to streamline government services. In the 1970s, for instance, La MaMa received part of its funding through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). Established in 1973 by the Nixon administration (yes, that Nixon administration), CETA was a block grant project established in response to public data indicating that funding for “job training” and “workforce development” was fragmented and duplicative, and thus inefficient. Individual states could decide how to spend their CETA funds; and New York State decided to give a portion of that money to arts organizations. With CETA funding, La MaMa incubated several ensembles that were responsible for staging more than 35 events (plays and concerts) between 1978 and 1980.

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Program for “3rd CETA Chamber Concert” (1978) (From La MaMa’s digital collections.)

Although thesedays La MaMa is more likely to get funding from private foundations or state agencies than from federal job training initiatives, our ability to fund our programming continues to depend on the availability of a wide range of public data.

For instance, like many other non-profits, we rely on data from sources such as 990-PFs – tax documents that private foundations must file with the Internal Revenue Service, which contain the names of foundations’ officers and grantees – in our fundraising and cultivation efforts. Although data found in 990-PFs is not government-created, it is made public due to a government mandate. It serves as a critical resource for a wide range of arts organizations and their allies, who use it to conduct prospect research, to understand the broader funding landscape, and to find new potential donors. It also supports a broad base for fiscal transparency, oversight, and public conversations about tax policy, private philanthropy, and funding for the arts. This kind of transparency enables us as a city and a nation to ask questions like: Who is giving to the arts? How has that changed over time? Why? (And so on.)

Of course, public records and data also serve as essential tools for scholars seeking to write about the arts in social and historical context. Scholars of the history of modern dance, or the rise of video art, or the role of the arts in the life of American cities (among other topics) all rely heavily on government-created records in their work.[1] Examples of the creative uses to which arts-engaged scholars have put public records abound. But for the sake of brevity, consider just one – Robin D.G. Kelley’s masterful biography of Thelonious Monk. In his effort to portray the life and work of this perennially misunderstood, incandescent musician, Kelley makes powerful use of land and property deeds, birth, death, and marriage records, court testimony, Selective Service records, the Census, as well as Monk’s FBI file, the annual report of the New York City Department of Corrections, and an array of other documents. Indeed, the public record becomes a rich source of evidence for the biography’s most important thematic frame: that Monk’s life and work reflected — and remixed— the idea of freedom in African-American history and culture. “Thelonious Monk’s music is essentially about freedom,” Kelley argues. In one early section of the book, Kelley does a deep dive into the public record to trace Monk’s family’s experiences with enslavement and liberty in the US over the course of a century. After locating Monk’s Great-Grandfather John Jack, born in 1797, from a combination of Census records (including the 1860 Schedule of “Slave Inhabitants of Sampson County”) and property records (including a deed of gift which transferred ownership of Monk’s Great Aunt Chaney from one slaveholder to another), Kelley learns from the Census of 1870 that Monk’s grandfather Hinton Cole, born into slavery, learned to read and write shortly after emancipation. Throughout, Kelley demonstrates that if Monk’s music was “essentially about freedom,” it wasn’t an accident. He had “inherited…a deeply felt understanding” of the topic “from those who came before him.” This foregrounding sets the stage for the rest of Kelley’s account of the pianist’s life and work.[2]

Finally, open data and records also comprise important source material for working artists. The public record served as an important basis, for instance, for last year’s hit Broadway musical Hamilton. (Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has often discussed the historical and archival material upon which he based the show.) But creative engagement with government documents is hardly new, and the list of artists who have used public documents and data in their work is very, very long. In his landmark Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real‑Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, for instance, Hans Haacke used public records to chronicle “the fraudulent activities of one of New York City’s largest slumlords over the course of two decades.” Visual artists Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh also used public records in their Index of the Disappeared project, which considered the “difficult histories of immigrant, ‘Other’ and dissenting communities in the U.S” after 9/11. And in the 1980s, the activist art collective Gran Fury deployed government data in the silkscreened posters they wheat-pasted across New York City. A poster they created in 1988, for instance, featured an image of a baby doll and text that read: “One in every sixty one babies in New York City is born with AIDS or born HIV antibody positive. So why is the media telling us that heterosexuals aren’t at risk? Because these babies are black. These babies are Hispanic.” In addition to functioning as complex aesthetic works in their own right, each of these projects contributed to wide-ranging public conversations about urgent social issues.

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Poster by Gran Fury. (Screen-grab from ICP)

For good reasons, this year’s Endangered Data Week focused on the importance of government data for environmental scientists, social scientists, and humanities researchers. Such scholars and their publics have a great deal to lose when government agencies can’t or don’t collect data about weather patterns and housing discrimination, among other information. But artists and their audiences also rely heavily on publicly accessible government data. It is hard to know for sure all the ways that the data upon which arts-engaged individuals and groups rely are threatened. And we must always consider the ways in which public data collection might inform more widespread government surveillance of civilians. But government data initiatives contribute to the well-being of a cross-section of people – including artists. And if we want to ensure that creative practice can endure – and can continue to inform public conversations about history, politics, and contemporary life – we need to fight for the continued existence of a robust culture of data transparency and accountability.

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[1] See, e.g. Naima Prevots, Dance for Export: Cultural Diplomacy and the Cold War (Wesleyan, 1999);  Kathy High, Sherry Miller-Hocking, and Mona Jimenez, eds., The Emergence of Video Processing Tools (University of Chicago, 2014); and Hillary Miller, Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York (Northwestern University Press, 2016).

[2] Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009), pp. 2-14 and 463-467.

Digital Collections Treasure Hunt

Maybe you’re thinking: I want to search La MaMa’s new digital collections site, but I don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you’re a history buff dying for some clues to the fascinating secrets of downtown New York’s past. Or maybe you just like a good challenge. Whatever your needs, we got you covered – with our new Digital Collections Treasure Hunt! And its a pretty rewarding challenge: there are hundreds of amazing, little-known stories buried in La MaMa’s archives.

So far, no one–even La MaMa’s most knowledgeable insiders–have been able to answer all of these questions without turning at least once to a keyword search in our Digital Collections.

Email rachel [at] lamama [dot] org for the answer key.

1. How many times did La MaMa move between 1961 and 1969?   

  • Never
  • Once a year
  • 4 times

2. Which playwright dedicated a 1969 La MaMa production of his work to the Stonewall Rebellion?

3. Which member of the Black Panthers staged several plays at La MaMa in the 1970s?

4. Why did the American Indian Theatre Company change its name to the Native American Theatre Ensemble? (Hint: the answer is in a program for a 1973 La MaMa production)

5. Who performed alongside “The Mell-o White Boys” at La MaMa in 1984?

6. What was the first La MaMa show to feature Nicky Paraiso (Programming Director/Curator for the Club and La MaMa Moves!) as a performer?

7. Which of the following was not one of the plays that the Great Jones Rep performed?

  • “The Iliad”
  • “As You Like It”
  • “Medea”

8. Name two Japanese theater makers whose work appeared on La MaMa’s stages before 1985.

9. Which actor from La MaMa’s 1969 production of Adrienne Kennedy’s a “Rats Mass” (directed by Seth Allen) went on win a Tony Award?

Medea (and More Medea) at La MaMa

This month, Dario D’Ambrosi brings Medea back to La MaMa. D’Ambrosi, an Italian theater-maker whose connection with La MaMa extends decades, has devoted much of his career to making theater with and about people with psychiatric disabilities. His Medea (which uses both English and “Attic Greek”) builds on this legacy, and features actors with a range of “diverse abilities” (including epilepsy, neurological disabilities and down syndrome).

Promotional Flyer: "Medea" (1963) (OBJ.1963.0008)

Promotional Flyer: “Medea” (1963) [OBJ.1963.0008]

D’Ambrosi joins a long list of artists who have brought Medea to La MaMa’s stage. La MaMa artists have found inspiration in this iconic tale about the righteous anger of a woman scorned since the earliest days of Off-Off-Broadway. Our Archives contains documents going back to the first appearance o Medea on the La MaMa stage–which was in 1963, when Donald Julian directed a version of Jean Anouilh’s Médée. (Anouilh [1910-1987] was a French dramatist best known for his adaptation of “Antigone,” which critiqued the Vichy government.)

In Anouilh’s version of the classic tragedy, the title character lives in a trailer park and dies in flames. Staged at 321 East 9th Street, the production starred Ellen Maris as Medea, Steve Merrick as Jason, Mary Boylan as the Nurse, and Robert Altman as Creon, Boy, Guard, and Narrator.

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Program: “Trilogy” (1974) [OBJ.1974.0157]

 

Two years later (1965) Harry Koutoukas staged his “Medea, Or, Maybe the Stars May Understand, or Veiled Strangeness” (also known as “Medea in the Laundromat”) at 122 2nd Ave. The production starred Charles Stanley in the title role. The Village Voice called this version so “eccentric as to be nearly unthinkable. The play is an enactment of the final terrible scene when Medea murders her child to avenge herself on Jason….Medea is the very heroine of old–fanatical, hideous, wronged, ecstatically suffering. But the action is set in a laundromat.”


In the 1970s, Medea was a mainstay of the work of The Great Jones Repertory. It premiered at La MaMa in 1972, and  formed a part of the company’s core repertory for many years after that, featuring in their tours to Germany, France, Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere.

And in 2005, La MaMa hosted Jay Scheib’s reinterpretation, which starred former Great Jones Rep member Zishan Ugurlu, and told the story backwards. As Scheib explained, “What I hope to achieve in reversing the story—by running it in reverse—is to reveal a gripping examination of the process leading to Medea’s slaughter of her two sons, a king and his daughter, and her brother. Medea is a play about passionate ambition and irreversible decisions. The details of these decisions are what interest me…We all know how Medea ends. We barely remember how it starts…Suspense and her great accomplice—broken expectation—these are the tools of our experiment.”

Join La MaMa and D’Ambrosi and his cast October 8-18 to see what this new experiment reveals.

Jeff Weiss, “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid,” and the Dilemma of Archiving Performance

I’ve been thinking, this week, about the trouble with archiving performance. The essay I’ve started writing about it — in my head, at least — is called “Community, Presence, and the Dilemma of the Performing Arts Archivist.” For me, the importance of preserving and facilitating access to documentation of performance events is driven by my own sense of the power of live performance, and a few exquisite experiences I’ve had as a performer, producer, and audience member– experiences that have shaped my sense of what is possible, and what’s important about our personal and collective struggles, and how we might live more electrically. The trouble is that the archival record rarely offers anything at all that can reproduce, convey, or document those experiences. We can learn a lot by reading correspondence related to, or watching a videotape of, a performance– but what we learn there has very little to do with what happens when you are gathered together with other live bodies in a room, telling each other stories.

This dilemma gains new depth as I mull the epic 3-day revival (or whatever you call it; revival is not really the right word) of Jeff Weiss’s “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid,” that ran at The Kitchen last week. As anyone who’s ever had the good fortune to see or participate in Weiss’s work will tell you, no archive will ever be able to capture the power of Jeff Weiss or “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid.” This is theatre that relies, for its power, on live presence; theatre that makes, and solemnifies, community. How to archive that? Why bother trying?

And yet, I still find utility in the archive. Its true that no collection of documents will ever replace the experience of sitting in the audience while Weiss and his co-conspirators make us laugh and laugh and burst out with a longing we can’t describe and then cry. But maybe the archive can help us make sense of those feelings, those longings, and the possibility we glimpsed in the confusing dark. Maybe the documentary record of Weiss’s life and work can tell us different kinds of stories to help us make our way. Maybe the archive can also help us understand how people and events came to take the shape they took, or transmit at least a hint of these histories to new generations. Weiss has been making disarmingly powerful theatre for decades; there’s precious little scholarship or writing about his life and work; and far too few members of younger generations know anything about this legacy.

Its not that there’s no writing about Weiss and his work; theatre scholar Stephen Bottoms, among others, has written about Weiss’s life and work: “Weiss wrote and appeared in his own material under the direction of his lover, Ricardo Martinez, with whom he shared a close personal understanding,” Bottoms writes in Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement (2006). “The results were extraordinary, as the superlatives showered on Wess by interviewees for this book demonstrate: ‘He’s just the greatest’ (O’Horgan); “A dazzling virtuoso, a consummate theater craftsman in every area’ (Patrick);…. ‘The best things ever done at La MaMa were by Jeff Weiss’ (Kornfeld). Very much his own creation, Weiss was untrained as an actor, having quit Stella Adler’s class–which he saw as an ‘offensive lesson in group therapy’…–after just one session” (p. 330).

Its just that this isn’t enough.

And so that’s why, as I came down from the high of experiencing “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid” last week, I turned back to La MaMa’s archival holdings for– well, for whatever we’ve got about Weiss and his work. There’s a lot here, too much to share in one tiny blog posting. But I do want to share some of it (especially material from the 1960s and 1970s), so that those you who are already Weiss fans can enjoy the inadequate delights they provide, and so that those of you who have never heard of him can begin to wonder about this incredible artist, his work, his legacy, and his worlds.

Below, a selection of items from La MaMa’s Archives documenting Weiss’s work. (Click on any image to see an enlarged version.)

1)The earliest object La MaMa’s Archives holds to document Jeff Weiss’s work is a postcard invitation to Robert Sealy’s “Waiting Boy.” This 1964 production marked the first of many times that Weiss performed at La MaMa. Sealy supposedly cast Weiss after seeing him waiting tables at La MaMa, earlier that year. “Weiss was” Bottoms writes, “an instant hit.” These were the days when La MaMa was still known as Cafe La Mama, and occupied a space at 82 Second Ave.

Invitation to Robert Sealy’s “Waiting Boy” (1964), Weiss’s first performance at La MaMa. Sealy supposedly cast Weiss after seeing him wait tables at Caffe Cino.

2)The archives also holds several objects that document early versions of “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid.” Among these objects is a photograph of Weiss performing the piece at La MaMa in August of 1966. This version of “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid” featured Weiss onstage solo. As Bottoms writes: “Welcoming the audience into his ‘home,’ [Weiss] regaled them with tales of his attempts to raise the cash to pay his back rent, while indulging tangentially in a ‘cascade of fantasies, reminiscences, meditations, poetry-readings, and miscellaneous schticks’,” (Playing Underground, p. 330). The photographer who created this image is unknown.

Weiss performing

3)We also have the poster created to advertise this production. The poster indicates that show was directed (of course) by Ricardo Martinez, with sound by David Walker. (Poster designer unknown.)

Poster for Weiss’s solo “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid,” (La MaMa at 122 Second Avenue, Aug. 1966)

4)The repository also holds a range of profiles of Weiss and reviews of his work. The clipping below, a February 1967 World Journal Tribune piece called “Talented Young Actor Chooses Poverty to Easy Compromise,” was written by critic John Gruen. The article offers a brief overview of Weiss’s life and work to date — Weiss was still only 24, but he had already written and starred in several well-received off-off-Broadway productions — as well as praise for the work. Gruen quotes Weiss, who had already come to understand his desire “to engage the audience– their role is as important and meaningful as ours. I insist on their involvement. I sweat up there for them. They’ve got to do some work, too.”

Profile of Weiss, titled “Talented Young Actor Chooses Poverty to Easy Compromise,” published in the World Journal Tribune in Feb. 1967.

5) The Archives also holds several photographs of Weiss’s performance in Harry Koutoukas‘s “When Clowns Play Hamlet” (La MaMa, September 1967). Below, a photograph of Weiss with his fellow performers Mary Boylan and Beverly Grand.  Set backstage at a circus,”When Clowns Play Hamlet” tells the story of three sad clowns. Joyce Tretick (critic for the publication Show Business) called Weiss’s portrayal of Pancho, a hermaphrodite clown who used to work at the freak show, “remarkable”: he was “totally in character with his role” and “his use of mime [was] both inventive and ingenious.” (Photographer: Ted Wester?)

Weiss with Mary Boylan +Beverly Grand in

6) Material in our collections also chronicle the changing nature of “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid.” In June of 1979, the Villager published a review of the latest iteration of the piece, mounted in May at La MaMa. In the piece, entitled “Jeff Weiss: Portrait of the Artist as a Sane Genius,” writer John S. Patterson explains that, in this version of the play, “Weiss tells the story of Mike, Jerry, and Dwight Deifendorfer, brothers awaiting the probate of their father’s will…These brothers follow an inevitable and illuminating path to the cooling unit of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant….[There] the power of their lust, [and] the insatiability of their greed…precipitates the disaster with which the nation lived for that nightmare week of incomprehensible terror.” But, of course, plot summary offers only a partial view of the power of Weiss’s work. “Weiss,” Patterson notes, “has created a structure which soars, arches, and blasts its way through this family with an inventiveness, wit, and perception rare enough in themselves but unusual indeed when subjected to Weiss’ theatre of extremes.”

Villager review of

7) But “And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid” wasn’t the only show Weiss wrote and produced at La MaMa in the 1960s and 70s. Below, for instance: a promotional photograph for Weiss’s 5-hour long “Dark Twist” (March 1979), which co-starred a young Nicky Paraiso (pictured at far right), among others. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Weiss and the cast of

These documentary fragments might be inadequate representations of Weiss’s monumental theatrical legacy. But I’m still really glad they exist.

The Native American Theatre Ensemble + La MaMa

Native American Theatre Ensemble in front of La MaMa on East 4th Street, 1972.

This week, La MaMa catalogers are working with materials related to one of the troupes that found a home at La MaMa in the 1970s: the Native American Theatre Ensemble (NATE). The Ensemble was established (as the American Indian Theatre Ensemble) in 1971 by a 26-year-old, Oklahoma-born, Kiowa-Delaware man named Hanay Geiogamah. (The group changed its name in 1973.) “The project,” according to an article published in Akswesasne Notes in 1972, “got underway in January [of 1972] with Geiogamah and associates undertaking a nine-month course in theatrical discipline and techniques at the eminent center created by Ellen Stewart in New York.” (Vol. 4, No. 4)

A program for NATE's production of

A program for NATE’s production of “Foghorn” and “Coyote Tracks” at La MaMa (1973) in which the group explains their recent name change. La MaMa Archives.

The troupe worked tirelessly over the next several years to create and perform original plays “for and about Indians” in a wide range of venues across the US and elsewhere. La MaMa’s collections– which include several cubic feet of posters, programs, photographs, correspondence, clippings, scripts, organizational records, and audiovisual materials created by and about NATE– document the Ensemble’s early years in-residence at La MaMa, its creative development, its domestic and international tour schedules, and the philosophy that drove its work. One document, entitled “A Proposal for a Tour of Indian Country by The American Indian Theatre Ensemble” (1973), notes that NATE’s goals included: 1)producing and presenting plays “about Indians” and reaching, with these plays, “every one of the 850,000 Native Americans, from reservations to urban ghettoes”; 2)contributing, with this work, to “the over-all effort to achieve freedom, equality of life and true self-determination for American Indians”; and 3)combating, eliminating and replacing (“as quickly as possible”) the “negative and defeating imagery which the media employs to portray Indian people.”

A letter to NATE from Rough Rock Community High School, March 1973. The writer explains that NATE's performance there was

A letter to NATE from a Rough Rock school teacher, March 1973. The writer explains that NATE’s performance was “one of the nicest things that has ever happened at Rough Rock.” La MaMa Archives.

Both in New York City and on tour, the troupe found enthusiastic audiences– of all ages. Fifth- and sixth-graders from the Rough Rock Demonstration School in Chinle, Arizona, sent the troupe a packet of thank-you notes after a 1973 performance. The New York Times ran a succession of articles about the group’s work, and positive reviews of NATE’s performances appeared in local papers, specialty magazines, and political newsletters. After a benefit performance at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis– the proceeds of which were donated to the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee— the Minneapolis Star called their work “sophisticated,” the acting “boisterous and engaging,” and the “message…unabashedly political.”

Materials documenting NATE’s work are now cataloged and will be findable through our digital collections portal, which is due to launch in Fall of 2015. There is one set of objects that we’ve cataloged but can’t, yet, offer up to researchers: a collection of 1/2 inch open reel videos documenting NATE’s performances both in New York and on the road. These videos are fragile and difficult to play back. We’re hoping to digitize them in the next phase of our Pushcart Collection project, so that we can begin to make them available to scholars and students interested in late 20th century Native American culture and politics, political theater, and the artistic communities that have been nurtured by La MaMa.

#metrocon15

Last Thursday, our team had the pleasure of participating in the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s Annual Conference (#metrocon15),  on the 14th floor of Baruch College’s vertical campus at 24th and Lex. The event offered a pleasant reminder of the vibrancy of NYC archives and libraries, and the power of this professional community.

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Notes on Siva Vaidhyanathan’s talk drawn by @robincamile.

The day kicked off with a keynote by the media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan, who offered a set of sobering reflections about creeping internet privatization and the role of information workers in maintaining the open and public nature of the web. Vaidhyanathan’s talk was followed by several sessions worth of overlapping project briefings. We got to hear Sarah Gentile discuss the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s digital archive, Mark Matienzo reflect on the Digital Public Library of America’s ingest process, and Jennifer Vinopal explain the work of the NYC Digital Humanities Group, among other presentations.  We also had the chance to schmooze, chat, and network with colleagues from Barnard, the Center for Jewish History, NYU, XFR Collective, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Theater Library Association, and Long Island University.

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The view from the audience during our presentation. (Photo @infiniteandone)

Most delightfully, we had the opportunity to present about the work we’ve been doing on the Pushcart Project. To a packed room, we offered a brief introduction to both La MaMa’s archival collections and the methods guiding our catalog development. We covered a great deal of ground in 30 minutes — we discussed our use of metadata standards and controlled vocabularies; the key components of our customized CollectiveAccess database; and the challenge of describing experimental theater events and documentation.

It was a lovely day, and a great way to introduce our project to the NYC library and archives community. (This was our first time presenting about the project.) We plan to post the powerpoint slides from our presentation shortly. In the meanwhile, you can see a curated set of storify-ed tweets from the presentation here.

See you next year, #metrocon!

Note: For another account of the conference (including a short description of our panel) , check out the post that the Jozef Pilsudski Institute of America has posted on their site.

Live from the Vault

Among the many theatrical events that La MaMa is hosting this Fall, one holds special interest for those of us working on our archival catalog project: a play reading series called “From the Vault: A Celebration of Classic La MaMa Scripts.” The series is the brainchild of longtime La MaMa-ite George Ferencz (a resident director from 1982-2008), and presents plays from La MaMa’s earliest years—the years that we are focusing on in our Pushcart Catalog. This series has, so far, showcased Julie Bovasso’s “Schubert’s Last Serenade” (which premiered at La MaMa in 1971) and Maria-Irene Fornes’ “A Vietnamese Wedding” (which appeared here on a double bill in 1969). This weekend (Nov. 21-24), however, it goes into overdrive: over the course of one long weekend, it will present readings of four classic plays. For a full schedule of these readings, click here.

These are plays that we, here at the La MaMa Archives, have spent a lot of time talking about, researching, and cataloging. Each play represents a world of theatrical experimentation, and a community of theatrical practice, that was important to the transformations the early off off-Broadway movement helped bring about. But unless you were there—or unless you’re a scholar of theatre history—they might not be familiar to you.

Color Photograph: "Miss Nefertiti Regrets" (Bette Midler in Leotard + Fishnets)

Bette Midler, “Miss Nefertiti Regrets,” La MaMa 1965. Photo by James Gossage. (UIN: OBJ.1965.0161)

Tom Eyen’s “Ms. Nefertiti Regrets” might be best remembered for having featured Bette Midler in what appears to have been her New York stage debut: she was initially cast as “Naomi and Assorted Virgins” in the 1965 La MaMa production. But soon after the show opened, Eyen re-cast her as Nefertiti. One reviewer called the production, a musical, “wild,” “swinging,” and “hilarious”: a “pure camp” take on “Queen Nefertiti’s true love for both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.” Eyen staged the play several more times over the course of La MaMa’s history (including twice in 1966, and once in 1973), over time changing the honorific in the title from Miss to Ms. At one point, a theatre columnist named Leonard Lyons printed a rumor that Midler was in negotiations to bring the play to Broadway; this never happened (though Eyen’s work finally did get to Broadway with the musical “Dreamgirls”). La MaMa’s Archives holds a great deal of material related to this and subsequent productions, including programs, fliers, press clippings, and dozens of photographs.

H.M. (Harry) Koutoukas “Medea at the Laundromat.” When this production premiered at La MaMa in October 1965, its was officially titled “Medea; or Maybe the Stars May Understand; or Veiled Strangeness: A Ritualistic Camp.” (Once, when asked about his “plays,” Koutoukas explained, “They’re camps—I call them camps. Plays are things of the Fifties.” [NY Native 10/29/90]). The show’s plot is based on Euripides’ Medea, but the action takes place in a contemporary laundromat—and somehow, the title just got shortened over time. Although the Village Voice would award Koutoukas an Obie the next year “for the style and energy of his assaults on the theatre in both playwriting and production,” its initial review of his Medea was perplexed—“Some of the language is beautiful, some of it is unintelligible,” the reviewer wrote. “The play is violently anti-logic, anti-Greek” and, (in part because its Medea was played, in drag, by a “six-foot-three man”) “grotesque.” [10/21/65]. There are only a few objects related to this production in the La MaMa Archives– but we do have a great many records documenting the life and work of the historically under-appreciated Harry Koutoukas. (I didn’t know him personally but, after cataloging a lot of these materials, I admit I have a big queer history crush on Harry.)

Paul Foster‘s “The Silver Queen Saloon.” Originally titled just “The Silver Queen,” this play premiered at La MaMa in April 1973. The production was packed with downtown luminaries, including playwright Paul Foster (who had been around since the founding of La MaMa), director Robert Patrick, and lighting designer Johnny Dodd. It also featured, as performers, Diane Lane (did you know she started her career as a child actor at La MaMa?) and, even more surprisingly, Meat Loaf. It featured “a wonderful grab bag of country, gospel, honkey-tonk, and ballad belting” music, and was “the most commercially viable production” of La MaMa’s 1973 season, according to Robb Baker, writing in After Dark July 1973. The show moved off-Broadway to the Mercer Arts Center in October 1973. La MaMa Archives holds several copies of the showbill created for this production, but not much else.

Flyer for "Bluebeard" (La MaMa Record OBJ.1970.0001)

Flyer for “Bluebeard.” La MaMa, 1970. (UIN: OBJ.1970.0001)

Charles Ludlam’s “Bluebeard.” It is hard to briefly summarize the history of this seminal play, which in its short run at La MaMa in March 1970 featured legendaries Lola Pashalinski, Black-Eyed Susan, and Mario Montez, as well as Ludlam himself in the title role. The official Ludlam chronology notes that this “Melodrama in Three Acts” was originally staged at Christopher’s End, and then ran “briefly at La MaMa before an extended run at the Performing Garage”; and that it was the Ridiculous Theater Company’s “first critical success.” La MaMa Archives holds very little documentation of this production– just a program (which indicates that the show had two intermissions), and a star-studded promotional flyer (at right).

–Rachel Mattson

The readings series is free, but you do have to reserve a spot.  Come on down!

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, artlibrarycrawl.com

Fales Library. Photo: lea simpson, artlibrarycrawl.com

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”

Ubu

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