Intro Chapter to the Memoir ‘Ragamuffin’s Tale’

I remember arriving fresh off the plane at JFK from London and my brother took me straight to the theatre in Brooklyn to watch Ingmar Bergman’s version of Hamlet in Swedish. There were a lot of explosions and platoons of soldiers running around in crash helmets reciting soliloquies in Swedish. It was sort of mind blowing, surreal. Overcome I passed out, exhausted, and when I came to everyone was staring at me. Obviously snoring through a Bergman play was frowned upon in the deeper thespian circles of New York.

My brother is the actor Jake Weber. He’s been in a bunch of films and television series — including Meet Joe Black, U-517 and the TV series with Patricia Arquette called ‘Medium’. Although we had gone through a lot together as kids we had parted ways in our mid to late teens when Jake went off to go to a prep school in the States and to live with our godfather there. Now, some eight years later, we were reconnecting.

I had come to New York to sell a TV Pilot called The Cha Cha Club. I would be meeting with the head of MTV and organise a preview screening for any media people I could find at a well known club where the waitresses are topless, in return for a favour owed to Cleo Rocos, the actress in our pilot. The club owner was Peter Stringfellow.

The Cha Cha Club was partially scripted and the action revolved around a live audience, visiting bands and several plants: the club owners and guest actors, satirical figures, trying to blag free drinks and attention at the bar. At that time it was partially scripted because up until that point we had been producing fairly straightforward music videos for labels and management companies in London. Later, having spent the next several years attending NY theatre and also editing and producing, I would learn that the concept was very interestingly structured for a part live form of interactive entertainment. 

When I turned up at the facilities company with whom I’d arranged to make a NTSC — American system — copy of The Cha Cha Club video, they said they hadn’t made the transfer. There started my relationship with a Turkish production company and Apo Oguz, who then signed me as a director. That facilities company would cause me to miss my appointment with the head of MTV New York.

Teaching improvisation and the tools for interactive performance are now reasonably widespread in drama schools and also among comedy troops like The Second City — many of the best of whom would go onto be part of Saturday Night Live – but the roots stretch back at least as far as medieval Italian street entertainers who would involve audiences in their semi-scripted antics. 

The most contemporary evolution of this type of interactive theatre and therefore, I would argue , the theory and organisational basis for much of interactive and partially scripted film and TV is Augusto Boal, the Brazilian developer of forum theatre, also known as the Theatre of the Oppressed. 

Much of it has roots in the 60s ‘happenings’ that my parents generation would talk about, but Boal takes the development further. According to a director I met from a Greek theatrical group practicing his methods, the plays are structured so that they are: 1. Immersive — the action takes place around and in a group. 2. The audience is instructed beforehand that if at any point in the action they become uncomfortable they must raise an open hand to indicate they request to pause the drama. At which point 3. The director will stop the action and quiz the audience member as what it was that made them uncomfortable and then ask for suggestions from the audience for alternative developments from the players to take the action in a more positive direction and lead towards a more acceptable resolution.

Augusto Boal’s ideas were often cultivated under strict and undemocratic regimes, where particularly minorities and indigenous groups would be unfairly targeted. His aims were developmental explorations of courses of action to produce more ideal outcomes. As such his ideas have also been adopted by businesses to uncover new ways of developing processes and optimise practices for better and healthier organisational outcomes.

A couple of days later and my brother and I are sitting at a table of a restaurant at the bottom of Columbus and next to us is a guy entertaining two girls. The sound of his rich voice seems to absorb the attention in the room. A lot of charisma and personality, he was Michael Wincott, famous for playing Brandon Lee’s antagonist in ‘The Crow’ and also a scary and ruthless Spanish invader of South America in ”1492”.

Two things I remember about the approach and entering La MaMa Theatre where ‘Road’ was staged and where my brother was covering for Wincott’s part playing opposite Kevin Bacon. The first was when I stopped for a coffee at a café in the village and outside were sitting a bunch of Mexicans … Seemingly as a prank, a young man rushes in yelling: ‘Immigration and Naturalisation Service raid’ and at least seven or eight Latin looking guys bolted for the door. 

The second was that on approaching La MaMa, I saw this strangely familiar looking girl sitting down on the pavement outside drawing pastel chalk paintings. This is a peculiar thing to editors, we often get to know people quite well from seeing them in a film we’re editing but have never met them. I walked over to her and was about to say, ‘don’t I know you from somewhere’, when at the last moment I stop myself and head up the stairs where I see my brother with greased back hair in workman’s braces throwing darts at a board. I suddenly get it, this is going to be an immersive experience and there are actor plants everywhere amongst us as the audience drifts in. 

Author: Altgenerations

I'm a creative and worked mostly as a freelancer editing commercials, film, documentaries. Increasingly I am writing and developing New Media. I do voiceovers, music, writing and production. Have had some music in film and representation through Getty's Pump Audio division.