Q&A with Mia Yoo, Artistic Director at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

The Dallas Theater Centre on stage

Q&A with Mia Yoo, Artistic Director at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club received the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2018. We caught up with Artistic Director Mia Yoo to chat about La MaMa's unconventional approach to theater and their passion for diversity and innovation. Mia also provides her vision for the future of the experimental theater club and potential plans for the grant money they received from City National Bank. 

What did winning the Regional Theatre Tony Award mean to the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club?

The Tony Award is making an acknowledgment that the work we do at La MaMa — our experimental, international and culturally engaged performances — are essential. This artistic community now has national validation. Because La MaMa had received more awareness and recognition internationally than nationally, this award was so important. 

Can you explain the experimental theater aspect of La MaMa? 

La MaMa is a place of experimentation, and risk taking is encouraged among our artists. Pushing the limits of where you think you can go artistically is the platform we want to create for the artists that come here. We want many voices — and a multiplicity of perspectives — to be part of the conversation. That's really an integral part of our ethos here. 

"In some ways, we don't even know what the work is going to be until opening night." 

The idea of experimentation fosters a lot of interdisciplinary work and this work is hard to categorize at times. We're really focused on the artists — where they are, and what they should be doing at that time in their career as an artist. There's that feeling of jumping off the cliff together, and not knowing exactly where we're going to land.

How did the artists at La MaMa react when they found out about the award? 

The messages of love and energy that we got from the artists have been so empowering and inspiring. I think they're inspired by it because this is great validation that our work is important and it must continue.

The idea that art has the power to bring people and communities together is so important to us. I think they’re inspired to do this work because it's not easy, and a lot of the artists don't have huge budgets. And publicity wise, the coverage and the visibility around this work is decreasing. 

"It is a constant challenge to make the work happen, and I think this was a great and inspiring gesture for everyone involved." 

How are the artists at La MaMa different from those at more traditional theaters? 

We have artists that have been with La MaMa for a long time — some of them for decades. They're developing their work here; we think of that as a residency at La MaMa. So we're not bringing in a finished product or inviting a production that was at a festival. The development process happens here. 

"We want to remain a home to artists throughout their career. We want them to know they can do something here they couldn't do anywhere else."

We want to continue to foster the idea that artists can try something new. We have artists from many different generations here and we really want to promote the intergenerational dialogue that can happen at a place like La MaMa, which has now been in existence for close to 60 years. 

How was La MaMa able to use the grant money to further its mission? 

We wanted to utilize the grant from City National in the best way possible, so we put it aside and we're strategizing to make sure we put it toward the right things.

One of our ideas is to bring a renowned artist, or someone with many years of experience, to do a mentorship-type program. Another idea is to bring in an artist that people wouldn't necessarily recognize but who has made a huge impact in the performance landscape. We're also talking about creating some kind of emerging artists initiative.

The main thing is, we want to use it thoughtfully. That's why we haven't just put it into the pot for general operating costs. If we do end up using it for this emerging artists initiative, then we can potentially get other people on board too, and maximize this beautiful opportunity.

What is your vision for La MaMa? 

La MaMa started as a cafe. There was sort of this unconventional way of thinking about performance in terms of the relationship between audience and performer. Anybody was welcome here; it was an open-door policy.

"The idea that art is a means to bring people together to open up and find connection is a core value here at La MaMa."

We’re currently in the midst of a major capital renovation project, focusing on development and the creative process. We're dreaming about our facilities being more open during the day so that people can come in and do workshops and classes. We’re installing a data network system in every building that will allow our local and global artists and audiences to communicate and share content despite distance. This will include learning classes, workshops and artistic collaborations.

How does La MaMa give back to the local community? 

We have all of these different ways people can come together and look at art, but also be part of the conversation around the creative process or the issues that the artist is addressing. We have a lot of different programs here that offer access into different areas of the work and the community, such as the LGBTQ+ community and the indigenous community.

Beyond our programs like La MaMa Kids and our Coffeehouse Chronicles, we also give 6,000 to 8,000 free tickets per season to community centers, senior centers and other community organizations. For every show at La MaMa, there are 10 tickets sold at 10 dollars apiece. We really want to make sure that we are working toward accessibility by allowing everyone to come to La MaMa and be a part of the creative process.

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