La Mama’s artistic director steps down after 50 years

La Mama’s artistic director steps down after 50 years
Kaylah Joelle Baker

La Mama’s Liz Jones has made the difficult decision to step down as artistic director, but not before she celebrates her 50th anniversary with the renowned theatre company.

Since first coming to La Mama to see a show after she was invited by the theatre’s founder Betty Burstall, Ms Jones found herself captivated.

“Seeing that first show was a highlight for me because I had never really seen theatre in such an intimate and intense space, and I really loved that,” she said. “It gave theatre an extra dimension for me; being within spitting distance of the performers. There was just an honesty and clarity that I loved.”

Now as the end of an era approaches this March, Ms Jones is turning her attention back to reflect on all the special moments that have made the “fulfilling” role so special to her.

“I have seen more than 2000 shows and so many of those are treasured moments for me,” she said. “After I became artistic director in 1977, my co-artistic director Anne Eckersley and I also held a festival in which we invited all of the artists who had been a part of La Mama within the previous 10 years to come back and present something.”

“That was wonderful for me because I hadn’t been around until 1973, so I had missed out on six years of La Mama’s life, and so I was able to catch up.”

Ms Jones’ time at La Mama has not come without trials, but through all these times, she is grateful to witness how valuable the theatre is to the community who continue to stick by and stand up for it.

In 2008, the community, philanthropists and government all came together to help La Mama raise $1.7 million to purchase its building, a moment Ms Jones reflected on as “extraordinary”.

This same comfort of knowing how valued the theatre is to its community was again felt in 2018 when La Mama was gutted by a fire, and supporters rallied together to raise more than $3 million in one year.


But now after putting up a good fight, especially more recently due to the difficult years spent dealing with the COVID pandemic, Ms Jones said the decision to step back felt right.


“Last year was a very difficult year for me as I tried to sort out what I should do, but by the end of it, I felt quite reconciled with the fact that I did need to step down from my responsibilities,” she said.

Despite plans to make the most of the free time she has to care for her husband and self in a “slightly more focused fashion”, Ms Jones isn’t saying goodbye to La Mama completely.

“I will still be working at La Mama for around 10 hours a week, including seeing shows and reading scripts, I just won’t have to be the one saying no to anyone now,” she added with a laugh.

As Ms Jones takes her final bow as artistic director, co-CEO Caitlin Dullard will be stepping into the position of artistic director, an outcome that Ms Jones said she was “very optimistic about”. •

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