Paul Foster, Playwright and La MaMa Co-Founder, Dies at 89

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Mr. Foster’s works include Tom Paine, Elizabeth 1, and Satyricon.

Paul Foster, a playwright and founding member of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, died March 5 at the age of 89. He passed away after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Mr. Foster was the author of 18 plays, including Elizabeth 1, Tom Paine, and Satyricon, as well as the libretto and lyrics for the musical Silver Queen Saloon. Fourteen books of his works have been published internationally, and his plays have been translated into 52 languages.

Paul Foster and Ellen Stewart


Paul Foster and Ellen Stewart

La MaMa Archive


Born October 15, 1931, in Penns Grove, New Jersey, Mr. Foster studied journalism at Rutgers University. He moved to Manhattan at the age of 21 to study law at New York University, and upon graduation, served two years in the U.S. Navy.

While living in NYC, Mr. Foster’s penchant for the arts grew. He met Ellen Stewart, a clothing designer planning to open her own boutique, and offered to assist in the store in exchange for using the basement space as a theatre in the evenings. With that, La MaMa was born and Ms. Stewart abandoned the boutique to help with producing at the company.

Among the many others who collaborated with Mr. Foster is the late director Tom O’Horgan. Their production of Tom Paine had a lengthy run Off-Broadway, and together, they took the production abroad, cementing La MaMa’s status as an international theatrical ambassador for Off-Off Broadway during the 1960s.

Outside of La MaMa, the playwright was repped on Broadway with Elizabeth I in 1972 at the Lyceum Theatre. He was also on the opening bill of Albarwild Theatre Arts’ first New Playwrights Series night at the Cherry Lane Theatre alongside Lanford Wilson and Sam Shepard. Mr. Forster’s works left a global impact, too, with stagings of his plays mounted at venues like Paris’ Theatre National de Chaillot, Bucharest’s Bulandra Theatre, and London’s Royal Court. The theatre artist also won numerous awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a British Arts Council Award.

A memorial will be planned post-pandemic. Donations to La MaMa. are requested for anyone wishing to make a tribute in his honor.

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