Date: 4th December 2015
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Susan Croft
Topics List: Susan Croft
Audio timing – 01:42:43
We are very grateful to Ruud Engelander who, since his interview, has given us extra clarification on certain points he discussed. These are indicated by the use of [ ].
00:00:00 Personal background. RE parents were teachers in The Hague – divorced before he was born in 1940. His father died in Auschwitz. RE was brought up by his mother and stepfather. There follows a discussion of the difficult years of German occupied Holland and RE recounts some disturbing incidents that he remembers. RE dismisses the importance of this background but acknowledges that it creates some link with Pip Simmons (who is Jewish) and their theatre production An Die Musik. At school RE had some experience of stage managing school productions –The Ghost Train and The Importance of Being Ernest (in Dutch)! RE moved to Amsterdam to go to University in 1959 – pleased to get away from The Hague.
00:14:54 Amsterdam University and Institute of Dramatic Arts. Initially RE studied Dutch Literature and Linguistics and wanted to be a writer. Later in1965 he changed path at the university to study dramaturgy under Benjamin Hunningher – BH had set the department up on the basis that there would be a theatre and the students would work in the theatre in addition to their academic studies. It was an opportunity that RE felt he had been waiting for. After a year or so RE became assistant to the Professor and a colleague of Paul Binnerts – at what was called the Institute for Dramatic Arts. Eventually a ‘nice theatre’ was built – it was a very adaptable space. RE wasn’t an actor but his extra-curricular work was in cabaret – humorous and musical ‘stuff’.
00:24.30 The Theatrical Context in Holland. Mainstream theatre was organised with about six main ensemble companies based in each of the main cities getting most of the public money available for the theatre. The quality was [sometimes] good but it was predictable – no original Dutch plays [original plays in Dutch were a rarity]. The Netherlands company [Nederlandse Comedie] in Amsterdam was singled out for criticism – the throwing of tomatoes at the actors in a production  led to a public debate – the outcome being more opportunities for new people to create their own companies and to have funds available for other productions which broke open the whole system and Holland is still benefitting from this action. Prior to this incident PB and RE had set up two festival of fringe theatres under the auspices of the university (1968/69) and they brought in theatre companies such as CAST and Open Theatre [also Albert Hunt’s Braford Art College Theatre Group and Wherehouse La MaMa]. This was one example of the breakthrough of alternative theatre – another one was the Mickery Theatre.
00:30:16 The Mickery. Initially the Mickery started about 1965/66.with their own productions such as [Johnny Speight’s] If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have to Invent Them (Dutch translation) but soon [its founder/director] Richard (Ritsaert ten Cate) stopped this ‘home’ productions and started bringing [innovative, international] companies across from UK [mainly from the US and UK]. RtC had studied at Bristol University for a while. [For a number of years RtC was able to finance these activities. However the state subsidy the Mickery received after a while was very welcome – and necessary]. RE met RtC when he came to ‘check out’ what they were doing at the University Theatre. RE went to the Mickery and saw ‘ground breaking’ productions from companies such as The Traverse Theatre Workshop and Pip Simmons [also La MaMa] – from this RE learned that you can make theatre outside of the context of the big theatre companies – you can just ‘do it’!
00:34:26 Early Career. As a result of the public criticism (referred to above) in 1969 there were new opportunities to create theatre including political work that may be critical of the Government. Some of this was within non-theatre environments such as within an educational context. RE was sceptical about theatre that puts forward a message at the expense of the artistic quality. RE experienced conflict through the various aspects of his life, torn between studying the history of the theatre whilst also dealing with the direct questions of the time – Why theatre? What is theatre supposed to do? He was also doing a lot of work – working for radio, journalistic writing, some teaching and editing a theatre magazine. In 1976 he became a dramaturg for one of the new companies called Baal (after the Brecht play). Prior to this he had started working with Pip Simmons who came along with a Baader-Meinhof project.
00:40:15 Dutch counterculture in the 60s and The Mickery. Provo [a Dutch counterculture youth movement] staged happenings on the streets with fire and chanting]. [Opposition] to the Vietnam war was a big thing. It was 1969, that was the year of demonstrations / university occupation in Holland – ‘it was a time of revolution in our way – a year later than in Paris’. Feminist awareness was still a way off. RE met PS at the Mickery when he brought shows such as George Jackson Black and White Minstrel Show, Superman and Do It! RtC really liked his [Pip Simmons] work and became a regular guest. The Mickery theatre was in the barn of an old farmhouse. RtC and his wife lived there and there were guest rooms where theatre companies could stay. The Mickery was a very flexible shape for performance. It was quite primitive and hippy-like -there was youthful energy. It was about 30 mins from Amsterdam in a car. RtC was a perfect host. It was a wonderful place to meet people. Later he moved The Mickery to Amsterdam.
00:48:10 Pip Simmons Theatre Group. Alongside RE’s other activities he was General Secretary of the International Student Theatre Union [STU/UITU] – one of the few organisations where theatre people [professional or not] from the East and the West could get together in the Cold War period – and in this capacity he attended festivals such as The North Sea Festival [The Nancy Festival in France, initiated by Jack Lang, later Minister of Culture] where he met PS again and they became friends. At some point PS said he was commissioned [offered] to do Die Räuber. [Instead he proposed to the Intendedant- General Manager – Ivan Nagel to] do something about Baader-Meinhof. RE had seen most of the Pip Simmons Group shows at the Mickery – they were ‘high energy shows, gross, very funny, confronting, ruthless, clever, I think Pip is one of the most intelligent theatre people I have ever met … because he knew so well how to use the theatre as an art form to evolve and provoke an audience’. In The George Jackson Black and White Minstrel Show black-faced actors were chained to the audience as slaves. He has always been a champion of the meaningful and fun at the same time… He always questioned things. In Do It! – PS questioned the hippie [Yippie] stance. RE discusses the role of the black-faced performer, racism and colour blind casting. RE was attracted by the energy, anarchy and fun of PS work combined with the actors incredible discipline and the social criticism that was there. The confrontational aspects of work such as Do It! could be quite scary. There is discussion of what shows played at the Mickery referring to photographs.
01:00:00 Baader-Meinhof Project. PS asked RE to work with him on this project as he needed someone to work on translations of articles from German newspapers – they stayed in a cottage [in Wales] for a few weeks preparing. In spring 1973 they went to Hamburg and saw some actors but nobody was willing to do it because they considered the project too risky. The Baader-Meinhof thing was very recent and perhaps not even over yet – so the Hamburg project collapsed, PS and RE were paid and went back to Holland and stayed in a house owned by RtC [In RtC’s guestroom in his house in Loenersloot]. [On the way back] PS suggested going to Bochum where they told the theatre director, Peter Zadek – head [Intendant] of the Schauspielhaus Bochum [BO-Schauspielhaus, Bochum, in the Ruhr area] of their failed project and PZ suggested doing it there. They had access to the ensemble and also hired other actors. But the project didn’t work out that well, [The project was realised but the final result was not satisfactory] because the actors couldn’t generate the deep commitment needed for a PS production, such as the direct confrontation with the audience. It had always been conceived of as a German production on a German subject so it was not suited to casting the PSTG regulars. The premiere was sabotaged by protest groups who occupied the stage. It got bad reviews – but it was fun.
01:09:23 Rotterdam and Children of the Night. In 1972 RE joined a committee to design a new theatre system for Rotterdam – again the city’s theatre provision had been dominated by the big state [municipal] theatre but they now wanted ‘to be more with the times’. The committee came up with a very liberal proposal – including encouraging experimental theatre companies and residencies for companies from abroad. When the programme was implemented RE thinks that RtC manipulated [pulled some strings] things to ensure that it was Pip Simmons Theatre Group that got the first residency. PS asked RE to join him there and work with him. For that purpose a ‘new’ Pip Simmons company was created – Children of the Night. This consisted mainly of ‘old hands’ from the PSTG and some others and around [in the spring of] 1974 they moved to Rotterdam. They were given a house – RE, PS, Chris [Jordan], Rodney [Beddall], Sheila [Burnett] and Eric Loeb and his girlfriend Laura Crow (costume designer). Rowan [Wylie] and Emil [Wolk] and some others [Peter Oliver and Friedrich-Karl Praetorius (an actor they had worked with in Bochum) and the technician Nick Heppel] lived in another apartment [his partner Laura Crow]. Sometimes relationships were difficult – living together and working together. PS had been commissioned to create two productions in the Toneelraad, Rotterdam – both on the theme of horror. Dracula was one and An Die Musik the other. Once an actor was committed to a show they became involved in every aspect of it. Pip gave the actors a great responsibility to fill in – he would look at the total picture but the actors had great independence. The scripts were developed as they went along, PS wrote the script and was the final arbitrator of everything! Although the actors were probably paid more in Holland than the UK Equity minimum, it was also a big commitment for some to live abroad. RE did general production work on these two shows and liaised between the Toneelraad and the company.
01:20:26 An Die Musik. The idea of doing a production about an orchestra in a concentration camp [An Die Musik] was RE’s. PS wondered whether this was an appropriate idea and they consulted with an older and esteemed Dutch theatre critic [Daniel de Lange] with some [personal war] experience of Auschwitz projects. The first part of the show came out of improvisations with the actors and the second part – the nightmare of Anne Frank – was Pip’s idea. PS knew so well what he was doing. RE didn’t feel his role [as a dramaturg] was essential – beyond coming up with the idea. The actors all played musical instruments in their roles. This was not one of those productions that had a confrontational relation with the audience – ‘the audience were really grabbed’ by the cruelty and violence on stage – it was a very physically demanding performance. The production was a big success especially when it was taken to the Nancy Festival and went on to a major European tour. At this point RE and PS went their own ways.
001:28:52 Baal Theatre Company. At this time RE was also writing and after Pip Simmons he went on to work with a Dutch company, Baal, until 1981. Their work was German Expressionist, Brecht, Peter Handke, Sartre and original musical theatre. Then he moved on to be Head of the International Department of the Theatre Institute until 1986, then he became director of a Government project – cultural exchange project with the United States and in the 90s became a freelance consultant before returning to the Theatre Institute [in 1991, where he worked until 2000].
01:33:45 Postscript. In 2000 RE was still doing work for the Theatre Institute. PS (whose wife was/is Swedish) was/is living in Sweden. The Mickery was supportive of PS, in the late 70s [80s]. PS and RtC had different political perspectives on issues and on the role of theatre and the way they might collaborate]. RtC [also had] started putting on his own productions at the Mickery, but they were more visual art projects rather than what RE would describe as theatre [In RE’s view they were more visual art than theatrical projects]. PS was all about dramatic confrontation. For whatever reason PS and RtC stopped working together and PS was [slowly] ‘getting forgotten’. RE was keen to bring him back, so RE proposed a remake of An Die Musik – it was to be a Romanian co-production. Chris Jordan and Pip Simmons rehearsed the Romanian cast in Bucharest but it was very hard for them, as ‘the actors never really got what the play was about’. It was reasonably well received but RE felt it failed to generate the right feeling of the original. It ran for two or three weeks [one or two] at the Tricycle Theatre – it also played one performance in Rotterdam, one in Amsterdam, [and travelled to various European cities, like Nancy, Copenhagen and Berlin]. There is a video recording of this revival.
Audio timing – 01:42:43
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