Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fully Realized History

An interview with the Director of the Archive at La MaMa, Ozzie Rodriguez

How do people use the archive?

It’s heartwarming to see the different ways that the archive is used and how the artifacts help to make the history more fully realized for people.

Every year we get scholars or people writing books about this community that can’t find the information that is essential to their endeavor.

We get students from all over the country and from other countries as well. I mean we will have a group from Montreal this week. In addition to people from Columbia, Fordham and NYU and Sarah Lawrence who visit, there are people from many cultures who are researching or seeking information. Some just want a general overview. Others are looking for something very specific. We did a thing on John Jesurun and Sam Shepard. We had two students, one from Brussels and the other from Russia. They were exploring the evolution of these two artists and their contributions to the contemporary theatre.

Ellen wanted the young people to have a hands-on grasp of how things developed. If you wanted to see Sam Shepard’s early work, you could look at his script and see his hand written notes and scribbling and everything else. She wanted that kind of availability. The more thorough and well rounded the education is for the student, the better off he is; the more choices he’ll have.

We have worked with so many international artists. There is a validation for those artists because they performed in New York and at La MaMa, which is known internationally, and it gives them a kind of credential that allows them to continue to develop their work. Being able to provide them with the documentation of their contributions is important to their artistic development.

By the same token, Ellen traveled widely and sought out a tremendous number of ancient techniques that she then introduced to American artists. We had artists from the Kabuki, from the Ramayana, from the Kathakali coming here to give workshops to the American actors. The American actor was growing in a way that was unprecedented, utilizing techniques that had here-to-fore not really been available to American artists because it was not a part of our education. There was nothing to be lost in being exposed to these influences and there was everything to be gained. We are able to show how these techniques were introduced and took root. In that way the archive demonstrates how the theatrical art form evolved.

There are also personal connections. We had a man here this morning who said, “My aunt was in a play at La MaMa in 1962. Can you tell me if there are any photographs of her?” That kind of connection is very interesting to me because, in a direct way we are responsible for the history of the artists who work with us and we contribute to their heritage and bare witness to their accomplishments. It shows that people still consider their time at La MaMa to be important and that their work here represents a milestone of sorts for them.

The greatest thing about this archive - and I am constantly rejuvenated by it and it does my heart good - is to see the same reaction from a 17 year old or a 70 year old. It is the same kind of awe. One could come from a school in New York and one could come from a country far away like Croatia. They are amazed by what they find here.

Theatre is an ongoing, living art. There is an evolution; without the work that we did, way back when, what’s happening now would not be possible. There is a lineage; a direct line. Through logistical information and the collection of artifacts, the archive demonstrates that lineage.


The La MaMa Archives is a not-for-profit organization sustained by La MaMa E.T.C. The Archives are made available to the public as an educational service to the performing arts community, the press, scholars, historians, emerging artists, and students of theatre the world over. The Archives are open to the public Monday-Friday, Noon to 5PM and are located at 66 East 4th Street on the Mezzanine level.

Interview conducted by Shay Gines

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