La MaMa’s DIY Beginnings

La MaMa’s DIY Beginnings

Neither Ellen Stewart nor Paul Foster had any savings or a steady paycheck, but they were resourceful. “If somebody needed to make the coffee for the customers, I would make the coffee,” Foster said. “If there was some woodwork to be done, I would get the nails and I would nail it together.” To call it a shoestring budget would be generous. “At that particular point, none of us had any jobs, so we had to make do. We went scrounging, looking for the sets and refuse that people would throw away. We would hit the sidewalks at nightfall and all of us would go trash picking,” Foster continued. “Off-Off-Broadway was very transformative. You took pieces of cable and then swear it was a magic wand, and it became a magic wand!” As La MaMa’s resident designer, Stewart costumed most of the early shows—often by picking up discarded fabric left on the street in the garment district on the West Side. (Living among the economic ravages caused by deindustrialization had some advantages.)

From Chapter 6 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Café La MaMa (original location)
321 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003