Ellen Stewart, the founder, artistic director and de facto producer of La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, a multicultural hive of avant-garde drama and performance art in New York for almost half a century, died Thursday in Manhattan. She was 91.
Ms. Stewart had a history of heart trouble and died at Beth Israel Hospital after a long illness, said Sam Rudy, a spokesman for La MaMa, where she had lived for many years in an apartment above the theater, on East Fourth Street.
Ms. Stewart was a dress designer when she started La MaMa in a basement apartment in 1961, a woman entirely without theater experience or even much interest in the theater. But within a few years, and with an indomitable personality, she had become a theater pioneer.