Playwright Maryat Lee (May 26, 1923-September 18, 1989) was born Mary Attaway Lee in Covington, Kentucky. Lee graduated from Wellesley College in 1945 in religious studies, then studied at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary.
In 1951, she wrote and produced the street play Dope!, which drew on her research into the religious origins of theater and her interest in persuading untrained people to act. She believed that the kind of acting she taught would bring out the hidden person underneath the roles and masks that society imposes. Named among the best plays of 1952–53, Dope! played in a vacant lot in East Harlem to crowds of 2,000 for five nights. It was widely published. Later, the social and cultural disruptions of the 1960s spawned street theater in New York, and Lee became one of its leaders, founding SALT (the Soul and Latin Theater) in East Harlem, using local people as actors. She wrote and published several plays during this period.
In 1970, seeking Appalachian roots, Lee moved to Powley Creek, near Hinton in Summers County. Here she established Eco Theater as an indigenous mountain theater, using Summers County people as actors. She developed an innovative way of composing plays, by gathering oral histories and turning them into drama. She published Four Men and a Monster (Samuel French, 1969) and wrote other plays, including John Henry (1979) and The Hinton Play (1980). In 1984, Lee moved to Lewisburg and worked on developing Eco Theater into a national organization. She died of a heart attack in Lewisburg.
This Article was written by William W. French
Last Revised on December 07, 2015
French, William W. Maryat Lee's EcoTheater. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1998.
Fitzgerald, Sally, ed. The Habit of Being: The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.
Lee, Maryat. To Will One Thing. Drama Review, (Winter 1983).
Cite This Article
French, William W. "Maryat Lee." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 December 2015. Web. 26 July 2016.