Collection Overview

Record Group, overview

La MaMa E.T.C. is an experimental theater located in New York’s East Village. Founded by Ellen Stewart in 1961, the organization has evolved over the decades from a small basement theater to a multi-sited, international organization. As one of New York’s first off off-Broadway theaters, La MaMa has been critical to the development of queer, African American, Asian American, and Native American, and Latino, theater forms, as well as experimental theater practices of various kinds.

Ellen Stewart first established the theater that would eventually come to be called La MaMa ETC in a basement space at 321 East 9th Street. Here, the playing area was just a small space between the café tables where audiences sat, and attendees were required to purchase a minimum of one dollar’s worth of refreshment from the coffee bar in place of tickets. Stewart and her compatriots remained in this space for less than a year: a series of complaints by neighbors led to a succession of visits from City agencies. In the spring of 1963, the Buildings Department informed Stewart—apparently in error—that the building housing her theater was not zoned for cafés. She moved the project to 82 Second Avenue and reopened in June of 1963. Here again, she was harassed by NYC authorities; and just a month after moving in, she was told that her theater was once again in an area zoned against cafes. In response, she reclassified the space--no longer a café, she re-established the project as a members-only club. But in July of 1964, coordinated harassment by police, fire, and health departments forced Stewart to move yet again--a few doors up, to 122 Second Avenue. La MaMa remained here for 4 years. When the lease on this space expired in 1968, Stewart used foundation funds to buy the building at 74A East 4th Street; and then to purchase several other buildings, including 66 East 4th Street. La MaMa continues to occupy both of these buildings today.; written by Rachel Mattson