Founded in 1990 by the late Ellen Stewart, La Mama herself, La MaMa Umbria is an exciting and enriching retreat located in Spoleto, Italy, that offers symposiums and master workshops dedicated to the artist’s growth. In light of TCG’s core values of Global Citizenship and Artistry, Stewart’s legacy and her dedication to cultural exchange and the development of artists seems to not only be an appropriate topic, but an important one to highlight in the Global Citizenship section of The Circle.
David Diamond, Associate Director of LaMaMa Umbria, says his experience with the program has been, “transformative … I have learned what it means to be a citizen of the world … I am learning about the artist I can be.” Diamond was kind enough to answer my questions regarding LaMaMa Umbria and their summer residency:
Lauren Saunders: Can you discuss the history of La MaMa Umbria, and why Ellen Stewart chose a 700 year-old convent as La MaMa’s international cultural center?
David Diamond: Ellen had been coming to Spoleto, Italy for many years. She owned an apartment in the town and grew to love the place. When she won the MacArthur “genius” Grant, she knew she wanted to create an international home for artists. She asked friends in the area to see what property might be available. She visited several places, but she knew she found the right spot when she came upon what is now La MaMa Umbria. It took years to renovate and develop into what it is today: a home that houses 25 artists, a separate rehearsal studio (once a barn), an outdoor stage, a gallery space, a café, private garden, fruit trees, etc.
LS: How is La MaMa Umbria different from other residencies or intensive abroad programs?
DD: La MaMa Umbria is a unique program in that the participating artists and the teaching artists live and work together in an intensive environment where artistic exploration is the aim. You reside in comfortable rooms, eat extraordinary meals prepared from fresh ingredients (often from our garden), have time for quiet reflection in a pastoral environment and have your needs of daily life (cooking, cleaning, laundry) taken care of for you – all so you can focus on artistic renewal and learning. I am not aware of another summer program like La MaMa Umbria in the breadth of artists who come to teach or participate, the care taken of the guests, coupled with the opportunity to be exposed to the rich cultural heritage of Umbria.
LS: In the context of this year’s program being focused in site-specific work, the website describes “the city of Spoleto as a living laboratory…a catalyst for exploration and creation.” Why is Spoleto ideal for this kind of creative environment?
DD: One of the reasons Spoleto is ideal for site-specific performance is its fascinating history and diverse topography. There are theatres built in 4 different centuries, grand piazzas, a huge castle on top of the town, a Roman aqueduct built in a bridge connecting Spoleto to a nearby hill that brings water, a duomo (central church) and an ancient beauty that is extraordinary.
This summer’s residency will focus on the history of the town as seen through sculptures located in various piazzas. The dances will be inspired by these landmarks and incorporate them into the performance. (There is even a huge Calder sculpture at the train station, which may become the site of a performance.)
LS: It is clear through La MaMa’s mission and body of work that it’s dedicated to the growth of the individual artist. How, specifically, do you feel the Summer Residency in Umbria carries out this goal?
DD: The La MaMa Umbria programs bring together artists from diverse backgrounds, with vastly different ideas about how to create theatre. When they come together to share their ideas, sparks of creativity and innovation start to fly. We learn a greater appreciation for artistic traditions quite different from our own which in turn inform our own work and enrich it.
LS: So the program is open to artists in other countries?
DD: All of our programs are open to artists from all countries.
LS: I’ve read that the program is not intended to be a class or workshop, but is focused on participants becoming a part of a creation. Do all of the Umbria residencies carry this intention?
DD: No, the Residencies differ slightly from the Directors’ Symposium, Playwright Retreat and Master Acting Workshops, in that they are an opportunity for artists to work on creating new productions in a safe environment. Because we are also co-producing the “fringe” festival of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, there is an opportunity for pieces developed during the Residencies to be performed at the La MaMa Spoleto Open Festival. The other programs focus on “process,” not “product,” allowing for learning and creating in a less pressured environment.
LS: Can you talk a little bit about your programming process? How do you choose your resident artists?
DD: We begin with the goal of creating a diverse and compelling program that will engage the artist in types of theatrical creation they may not have experienced. We identify leading figures in world theatre and invite them to present workshops. We have become interested in recent years in exploring collaboration amongst artists from other fields with theatre artists – such as visual artists, video artists, composers, etc. The content for each summer depends in large part on the availability of the internationally renowned leaders in the field who will lead the workshops.
LS: How much does the residency cost?
DD: Each of the Programs is priced differently. The Directors’ Symposium, our flagship program, costs $2,700 for two weeks, or $5,000 for four weeks. The Playwright Retreat and Master Acting Workshops are $2,300 for ten days (each) and the Site-Specific Dance/Composer Residency is $1,500 for twelve days. Fees include housing, meals, all workshops, attendance at performances at local festivals, and tours to cultural sites in Umbria.
LS: What is the application process for the program? Is there a deadline?
DD: Apply to the Programs by filling out the Application/Registration Forms found on our website. The Deadline for all of our programs is May 15th, with the exception of our Dance Residency; unfortunately, the deadline for the Dance Residency passed on April 15th.
The website is found at: www.lamama.org/programs/la-mama-umbria-international.
LS: What do you think Ellen Stewart would say to potential applicants of the La MaMa Umbria Residency?
DD: Ellen would say: JUST DO IT! She believed that we all need to take advantage of opportunities that exist to help us develop as artists and citizens of the world.
To learn more about Ellen Stewart and her innumerable theatrical contributions visit http://lamama.org/about/ellen-stewart/. You can also see the League of Professional Theatre Women’s 2004 interview with Ellen here.
David Diamond is a theatre consultant and career coach for theatre artists. As a career coach, David works with individual theatre artists assisting them in goal setting, strategizing and actively pursuing their chosen career. Current projects include organizing and coordinating the LaMaMa International Symposium for Directors, and presenting the workshop, DIRECTING YOUR THEATRE CAREER to university students around the country. The workshop provides countless resources and advice for navigating a career in the professional theatre. It has been presented at Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon, California Institute for the Arts and Fordham University, among others. David is on the Steering Committee of Theatre Without Borders and is developing trainings with Brandeis’ Acting Together Project on theatre and peacebuilding efforts around the world.
Previously David served as Executive Director of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation for close to a decade. David also served as General Manager of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Managing Director of The Barrow Group Theatre Company and Management Services Assistant at Theatre Communications Group.
He received his B.A. in Psychology with a theatre minor from University of Illinois and an M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University. He completed with distinction the Arts Leadership Institute at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Lauren Saunders is the Artistic and International Programs intern at TCG. She graduated with honors from Goucher College with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Women’s Studies.