Of course, what keeps La MaMa alive and kicking, what renders it distinct, is the asset it must one day lose—Stewart herself. More than any other aspect of La MaMa, artists revere Stewart's uniquely maternal support. Fulham says Stewart created "a birthing place"; Paraiso describes her "nurturing." Puppeteer Theodora Skipitares, who has performed at La MaMa for 18 years, says that whenever an artist had questions about an upcoming show, "You could go to her room, you could talk to her on the phone." Stewart would even help you decide what color costumes a particular puppet should wear. At the renaming celebration, Jean-Claude van Itallie recalled meeting Stewart in the early '60s: "I said to her, 'I am a playwright,' and she said, 'Welcome home, honey.' "

No one knows what will become of that home after Stewart retires. Perhaps it will return to greater relevance, perhaps it will fade like the other institutions of its day. Yoo, who emphasizes that Stewart is still very much La MaMa's leader, says, "I can't imagine what it's going to be like without her. I don't want to."

A soft-spoken woman, far less flamboyant than Stewart, Yoo likely won't inspire the same cult of personality, nor does she claim to judge projects, as Stewart famously did, on the basis of whether or not they "beep" at her. Nevertheless, her tastes sound remarkably similar to Stewart's: "I am compelled by work that touches me emotionally," she says. "Work that is hard to box in and categorize. Work that pushes and questions human potential."

A onetime home to Shepard, Grotowski, Monk: Stewart in her theater in 1991.
Jonathan Slaff
A onetime home to Shepard, Grotowski, Monk: Stewart in her theater in 1991.

Yoo remains vague about what sort of artists and companies she would like to bring to La MaMa, but makes one firm prediction for the theater's future: "This place is going to go on with Ellen's spirit here."

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