Cecile Guidote-Alvarez on Ellen Stewart’s Demise!


Ellen Stewart

Ellen Stewart

Ms. Ellen Stewart, American theater director and producer, founder of La Mama Experimental Theater Club in New York, which is considered an avante-garde Off-Off Broadway venue for young actors and playwrights (Al Pacino, Bette Midler, Sam Shepard, among them) and home for artists from more than 70 nations, died last January 13, 2011 at the age of 91.

Seven years ago, Ms. Stewart was a guest of then National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director and Philippine ITI Center’s’ Ms. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, a friend of long standing and a colleague in the global theater circle.

Upon our request, Mrs. Alvarez wrote the following article “Thank You, Ellen!  Love, the Philippine ITI Center”.

We deeply grieve the loss of a theatre titan and a caring mother, Ellen Stewart, who nurtured the creative growth of her children in all corners of the world. We know she had a special place for the Philippines in her heart. Her commitment to human rights and freedom was most manifested in providing a haven for the Filipino exiles fighting for the restoration for democracy for 13 years and continuously providing even now a center for creative expression for Filipinos in the homeland and those in Diaspora.

Serendipitously, we were 11 countries meeting in the ITI Board at Fujairah when news broke on the 13th that Ellen had died. I was stunned. I always took it for granted she was immortal and will continue to be the fairy godmother of artists. I held back tears. Of course, her memory will always be cherished by the thousands she guided, inspired and encouraged to realize their impossible dreams. Our paths cross in the International Theatre Institute since 1969 and she has always championed our cause to veer away from American and Eurocentric Theatre paradigm but include a parity of attention to the wealth of the diversity of cultures in Asia, Africa and Latin America interacting with ethnic minorities in developed countries. Thus, was born after a successful Third World Festival hosted in 1971 by PETA which I founded in the Philippines, a permanent Third World committee now dubbed Cultural Identity and Development. It is 40 years old as Ellen, the honorary chairperson passed away. I am therefore, compelled out of deep appreciation, affection and esteem to insure that her beacon remains to be followed by generations still to come in the arena of performance and media arts.

The ITI Philippine Center/ Earthsavers Ensemble selected as UNESCO DREAM Center offered to initiate an Ellen Stewart Memorial Award for Cultural Diplomacy in using the arts as a force for education and social transformation, peace and sustainable development. I readily offered as a partner, the Seoul Institute of the Arts since its Chairman is the father of Mia Yoo currently the Associate Artistic Director of La MaMa. The US-ITI Center concurred to help actualize the concept approved in principle by the Board.

Former President Cory Aquino after the EDSA People Power welcomed Ellen in Malacañan Palace presiding in the gift giving of a World Theatre Day Award for her incredible support of the Exile Movement and promoting Filipino-American Theatre. An Honorary Doctorate in Humanities was given by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Indeed, her years of criss-crossing continents as a real Ambassador connecting culture, promoting intercultural, interfaith dialogue through the arts must be engraved in World Theatre History and kept alive by kindred spirits who will pursue her mission of promoting international understanding to harmonize one global family.

I am certain, in her special seat in heaven, she smiles, applauding as she sees her efforts are not in vain. We love you MaMa Ellen, forever.


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