Mary-Averett Seelye, performance artist

April 10, 2013

Mary-Averett Seelye, 94, a longtime Washington performance artist who also helped found a theater company in the 1950s, died March 30 at the Collington Life Care community in Mitchellville.

She had a brain tumor, said a niece, Karen Franck.

After coming to Washington, Ms. Seelye helped found the Theatre Lobby. As a performing group from 1950 to 1972, it presented some of Washington’s first integrated theatrical productions. It also staged the first local performance of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” in 1958. The group later became a theater support organization.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, Ms. Seelye also gave performances in which she combined poetry and movement.

In 1981, Washington Post dance critic Alan M. Kriegsman praised Ms. Seelye for her “courage, intelligence, charm and artistic integrity. She declaims the poetry clearly and artfully, and her tall, gangly figure has a natural, quirky expressivity in motion.”

Ms. Seelye worked for many years as an arts program associate for the American Association of University Women, giving arts workshops across the country. She retired in the early 1980s.

Mary-Averett Seelye was born in Chatham, N.J., and spent much of her youth in Lebanon, where her father was a professor at the American University of Beirut.

She received a bachelor’s degree in drama from Bennington College in Vermont in 1940 and a master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina in 1950.

At the 2008 Metro DC Dance Awards, she received the Pola Nirenska Award for lifetime achievement.

She lived in Washington before moving to Collington. She had no immediate survivors.

— Matt Schudel

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