Find of the Day: Patti Smith in Jackie Curtis’s “Femme Fatale”

FemmeFatale

Flyer for “Femme Fatale” (1970) [OBJ.1970.0086]

Here in the La MaMa archives, you never know what might pop out at the end of the day and surprise you. Today it was Patti Smith’s name in the cast list of the 1970 production “Femme Fatale: The Three Faces of Gloria.” Described in the flyer to the left as “A Religious Entertainment,” the show was created by Jackie Curtis, a drag artist who first performed in Tom Eyen’s “Miss Nefertiti Regrets” at La MaMa in 1965. The show combined familiar religious and movie scenes with “bizarre contemporary situations,” according to the rave review published in the newspaper Show Business by Frank Lee Wilde. Smith, of course, later went on to pen the controversial lyrics “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” in her cover of Van Morrison’s song “Gloria.” Could there be a connection between these Glorias?

In this six-minute clip of the production, Jackie and Patti can be seen in a chaotic scene leading up to the song “Kissing Asses for the Man I Love.”

–Suzanne Lipkin

A Short History of La MaMa’s Archive

2014-04-07 13.33.17 copyAccording to Ozzie Rodriguez (pictured above), the La MaMa Archives got its official start in 1987, when the Buildings Department ordered the basement theater in La MaMa’s building at 74A East 4th Street closed. “We had a cabaret [space] in the basement,” he explains; the City “decided that that was not a suitable space for audiences.” Unable to use the basement as a theater, but reluctant to let the space sit empty and unused, Ellen Stewart (La MaMa’s founder and director) asked Rodriguez what he thought should be done with the space. “I looked around and said, ‘Well, why don’t you make some room in the office upstairs by sending all the past records down here and we’ll call it The Archive’.”* It seemed like a good idea. So the basement became the archive and Ozzie Rodriguez became the archive’s director.

2014-04-07 13.35.43 copySeveral decades later, Rodriguez still directs the La MaMa Archives, but the Archives no longer lives in the basement of 74A East 4th Street. It now occupies 5000 square feet on the mezzanine level of 66 East 4th Street, a few doors down from 74A, in the building that houses the Ellen Stewart Theater. Visitors entering the space are greeted by a life-sized statue of Stewart herself, arms outstretched, welcoming them in. The rest of the space is devoted to cabinets, bookshelves, display cases, flat files, objects, and work spaces. On a typical day, the space is bustling with activity as Rodriguez leads groups on tours of the space, telling visitors stories about the collection’s objects and the theater’s history. Across the room, Archives Assistant Shigeko Suga is on the computer, logging records or preparing files.

The Archives might have had its official start in 1987, but the collection itself goes all the way back to 1962: it holds a poster from La MaMa’s very first production (an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ short story “One Arm,” directed by Andy Milligan). In all, the collection includes approximately 10,000 unique items, including: posters, programs, scripts, costumes, puppets, masks, musical instruments, correspondence, photographs, and audiovisual materials.  Among int'l-studthese are documents that shed light on the early work of a wide range of now-famous artists– original scripts by Sam Shepard, Harvey Fierstein, and Adrienne Kennedy, and production stills of Bette Midler, Al Pacino, and Diane Lane. The collection also features Ellen Stewart’s many awards (which include Tonys, Obies, and Drama Desks, an “Ordre Des Arts Et Lettres” from the Republic of France, Praemium Imperiale Arts Award, and an “Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette” from the Emperor of Japan). But tucked away alongside these treasures are other equally remarkable objects that testify to the theatrical contributions of less heralded but equally important artists– performers like Helen Hanft, Jackie Curtis, and Jimmy Wigfall; playwrights like H.M. Koutoukas and Jeff Weiss; photographers like James Gossage and Jerry Vezzuso; lighting designers like John Dodd. In this way, the Archive chronicles an important American legacy, shedding light on the artists, companies, and historic productions that found a home at La MaMa and have had a lasting influence on the performing arts landscape and cultural life of the US.

–Rachel Mattson

* Rodriguez quoted in http://nyitawards.blogspot.com/2014/04/la-mama-at-forefront.html

 

Introducing…La MaMa’s New Archival Cataloging Project

Exciting things are happening in the La MaMa archives.

This past January, we were awarded a generous grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) as part of their Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program. La MaMa was among 23 institutions to receive funding under this initiative in 2013 (other awardees included the Princeton University Libraries, the Newberry Library, and the George Eastman house; for a full list of this year’s recipients, see CLIR’s site.). Designed to support “innovative, efficient” efforts to improve access to valuable archival collections, CLIR’s “Hidden Collections” project has supported the work of many effective and important archival description projects over its 6-year lifespan.

This grant will make it possible for La MaMa to create an online, searchable catalog of our archival materials – something we’ve never before had the resources to do. For this initial description project, we’re focusing on materials from our early years, 1962-1985. These are among the most requested of all our materials; they also uniquely document an important period in the history of the Off-Off-Broadway movement. Over the course of the next two years (January 2014-January 2016), a team of catalogers will work its way through the photographs, playbills, posters, audiovisual material, and scripts that document La MaMa’s earliest years. By the time we’re done, we will have created a user-friendly, robust database that will help researchers and students make the most of our archival offerings.

As we go, we’ll use this blog as a space to reflect and report back to our community and audiences. We will describe our work, reflect on the challenges that our collection poses to traditional archival practice, and offer glimpses into the treasures in the collection. We will also announce any public events we convene to showcase our efforts and their results. So keep your ears peeled for updates.

In the meanwhile, we’re thrilled to introduce the members of the cataloging team. Working with long time staff and La MaMa-ites Ozzie Rodriguez (the Director of La MaMa’s Archives) and Shigeko Suga (Archives Assistant) are three new staff members—Rachel Mattson (the Project’s Manager) is a historian and archivist with roots in several Brooklyn-based arts and activism collectives; Suzanne Lipkin (a project Cataloger) is a recent graduate from the Pratt Institute’s School of Library and Information Science with experience in archival outreach and reference; and Julie Sandy (a project Cataloger) is an arts archivist, prop master, and stage hand who has worked for almost a decade in and around NYC’s theaters.  We’re also excited to have Tiffany Nixon, the archivist at the Roundabout Theatre, serving as Project consultant. (You can read more about our team here.)