Inter-Action was formed in 1968 by American ex-pat activist and playwright ED Berman with the view to create a wide-range of performances and activities to bring the arts closer to the community. These activities ranged from producing new writing and experimental plays, to taking performance directly onto the streets, to organising workshops and performances for community participants.
As an umbrella organisation, Inter-Action was responsible for the formation of several sub-companies, including the Ambiance Lunch Hour Theatre Club (which as the Ambiance in Exile hosted Black and White Power Plays, Britain’s first Black theatre season), The Almost Free Theatre (which hosted the first Women’s Theatre Festival in 1973 and first gay theatre festival, Homosexual Acts in 1975) , TOC (The Other Company) led by Naftali Yavin, Dogg’s Troupe, the Fun Art Bus, the Father Xmas Union, BARC (British and American Repertory Company), and OATS (Old Age Theatre Society). In addition to these theatrical endeavours, Inter-Action also founded a multitude of other initiatives, including a publishing branch (In-Print) and a film company (In-Film), as well as providing an advisory service and training in subjects from theatre skills to computers and communications. The company also developed sites for use by the community. In 1972 they initiated the first City Farm in London, based in Kentish Town, which eventually inspired a national movement. And in 1976 they developed the Talacre site in the Borough of Camden, which functioned as a community resource centre and a base for their growing portfolio of work in the community. The innovative modular building, designed by Cedric Price, has been seen as the fullest realisation of Joan Littlewood’s idea of a Fun Palace. It was the base also of Weekend Arts College, which, as WAC Arts College, in nearby Haverstock Hill, still provides innovative, inclusive and cutting edge performing arts and media programmes to young people. An offshoot in Milton Keynes is still going today and the organisation went on to work in Victoria Docks, E16, and internationally in India, South Africa, Russia, Israel and the US as well as running training initiatives from the ship HMS President on the Thames.
Central to the Inter-Action’s work and process was an experimental approach to structure. The company functioned as a collective, although operations were often spearheaded by the artistic director ED Berman. Company members lived communally, sharing cooking and other domestic chores, and some living in ‘official’ squats that were negotiated with the local Camden Council. Challenging structures was also part of the company’s theatrical work, which Berman states was ‘built around the concept that the theatre is a structure which can intercede in reality’ (quoted in Stages in the Revolution by Catherine Itzin, p. 54). These structural interventions ranged from interceding in the working day with lunchtime theatre productions of plays by marginalised groups, to interceding in the economic system of theatre-going with ‘almost free’ tickets, and interceding in the streets with flamboyant and provocative performances and protests. The company also developed the Inter-Action Games Method, a training technique based on children’s games, designed to encourage participants to work together creatively, and which provided the basis for their approach to community and arts creation with groups from old people to mental health service users, as well as for its experimental theatre performances.
|More information on the wide-ranging initiatives of Inter-Action (these will eventually open to their own dedicated pages):|
|Ambiance Lunch Hour Theatre Club
A company that presented new writing to lunchtime audiences; first at the Ambiance restaurant No 1, Queensway, and later 'in Exile' at the Green Banana, ICA and Oval House, before taking up residence at the Almost Free Theatre.
| Dogg’s Troupe
A street and community theatre company, performing participatory game-based shows to children and family audiences.
|The Almost Free Theatre
An alternative theatre venue based in Rupert Street, Piccadilly, that presented new writing, including several influential seasons of work by under-represented groups.
| TOC (The Other Company) directed by the influential Israeli, Naftali Yavin.
An experimental theatre company, that drew on games theory in its theatrical process.
|Father Xmas Union
A 'union' of hundreds of Father and Mother Xmases who staged large-scale, media-focused activist events.
|Fun Art Bus
A converted routemaster bus giving free rides and hosting a variety of entertainments on board, from short films and visual art to mime-shows and plays.
This publishing branch produced handbooks that covered a variety of subjects from, from how-to skills guides to information on social issues.
|Kentish Town City Farm
A farm built by community volunteers on disused land, creating a working farm and riding school. It inspired a whole movement and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. It is still in existence today: Kentish Town City Farm.
|BARC (British and American Repertory Company)
The first company of British and American performers approved by both Equity Unions.
|Inter-Action’s base at Talacre Road
A purpose-built community resource centre that provided a base for Inter-Action's various community projects, it was designed by architect Cedric Price, Joan Littlewood's collaborator on the Fun Palaces project.
|Weekend Arts College (later Wac Arts)
Founded in 1978 to offer opportunities in dance, music and drama training to working class kids.
Follow the link for details about Inter-Action’s other initiatives.
Interview reference: ED Berman, Ros Asquith, Patrick Barlow, Sarah Evans, Roland Rees , Hilary Westlake, Michelene Wandor. Patrick Barlow’s interview is not yet available for viewing at our depositories, please contact us for details if you would like to see it.
Existing archive material: Inter-Action’s archive is held by Unfinished Histories. See also, Inter-Action company file, Ambiance Production Files and Almost Free Production Files at the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Archives.
More recent work: Inter-Action relaunched the Fun Art Bus in 2012, touring new art and community work to selected London boroughs and other large UK towns and cities. A further bus has been launched as part of Inter-Action’s FABLAB initiative. A book on Inter-Action by Susan Croft and Tony Coult is underway.
The Fun Art Bus compiled by Justin Wintle (Methuen 1973)
Homosexual Acts ed Ed Berman (Inter-Action Inprint 1975)
‘It takes a lot of work to break through: Being second is easy’ by ED Berman, in The Unsung Sixties ed Helene Curtis and Mimi Sanderson (Whiting and Birch Ltd 2004)
‘Ed Berman and Inter-Action’ in Stages in the Revolution by Catherine Itzin (Eyre Methuen 1980, pp.51-59)
‘Ed Berman and Inter-Action’ in Fringe First by Roland Rees (Oberon 1992, pp.21-23)
Theatre Games by Clive Barker (Methuen, 1977)
Dreams and Deconstructions ed Sandy Craig (Amber Lane Press Ltd 1980)
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to ED Berman, Patrick Barlow, Hilary Westlake, Michelene Wandor, Sarah Evans, Ros Asquith and Roland Rees for their time when interviewed by Susan Croft and Jessica Higgs for Unfinished Histories, which has proved invaluable when developing these webpages. The pages on Inter-Action and all related companies were created by Jessica Higgs and Eleanor Paremain. November 2013, updated by Susan Croft, May 2017.
The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.