Al Ramos


My performance evolution started at H-B Studio where I signed on for singing class back in 1979.  I was playing guitar with a singer songwriter and performing at clubs like Folk City, Kenny’s Castaways,  and others up and down Bleecker and MacDougal streets.   Within a few months I was taking acting classes, got a headshot (at the urging of one of my scene partners) and started auditioning.         My first audition experience was for a new play about an idiot savant titled "Hands". I got a phone call from a woman who was cast in the show telling me the director was looking for another actor.  I had only recently decided to start auditioning and I didn't have  a monologue prepared.  I went to the audition anyway.   The play was being produced at an old Episcopalian Church on 6th Ave. that eventually became notorious as "the LImelight".   The stage was the altar and that's where the auditions were held.         I had memorized my lines for the scene I was working on in class and I just recited them in sequence without the other person's responses.   The director was a funny and creative guy named Michael Levine.  It was definitely different than the run of the mill monologue.  Michael told me it was bizarre but he loved it.  I told him I had no experience outside of class.  He said he had cast the open part with one of the actors who auditioned before me, but he needed help with the production and I could understudy everyone and sooner or later I'd get on stage.  It sounded good to me,  a chance to work on the production side.  I accepted and ended up doing everything: hanging and focusing lights, running cable,  building and dressing flats,  scenic painting.   I worked with Michael everyday and we became friends.  I didn't get on stage but I experienced "hanging out" with the actors during and after the performances,  backstage intrigue, romance and I learned how to put together a "showcase" production.   It was my first taste of theatre life and I was immediately addicted.         Not long after the close of "Hands", I got a call from Michael Levine.  He was cast to play Pishchik in a production of "The Cherry Orchard" at the Meat & Potatoes Theatre.   Michael had recommended me to the director as a guy who could be "very useful" around the show.   Back in the late 1970's and very early 1980's the "off off Broadway" scene was abundant with black box theaters spread throughout the different neighborhoods.   The Meat & Potatoes Theatre Co. was such space located upstairs in a large loft somewhere around 39th St. and 8th Avenue.         Neal Weaver (a product of the vaunted Northwestern U. Theatre Department) was the director of the theatre and he had cultivated a decent audience following presenting a mix of classics and new plays.   It was here that I got my first action on stage playing background characters appearing throughout the “Cherry Orchard” . When Neil discovered I could play guitar, he even added a guitar playing peasant draped in a burlap bag.   No lines, lots of action.         From that debut I developed a rogue's gallery of odd characters showing up everywhere in town from raw performance spaces like the Gas Station down on Avenue B or hip performance bars like the Pyramid Club to mainstream Theater Row houses like the Samuel Beckett.   I started to attend performances from showcases to Broadway.    A one man performance piece in a bar on the lower east side to the Royal Shakespeare Company on Broadway with Derek Jacobi playing leads in "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Cyrano".    I auditioned and was accepted into a classics   workshop at the CSC Rep Theatre which was run by Christopher Martin.         The other members of the workshop were guys and gals who had MFAs in theatre ( Yale, SMU, Carnegie Mellon, NYU...) Everyone hoped to get noticed and work with the resident company.    For me, it inspired me to dig in and catch up to the MFAs.  I started reading everything:  books about theatre, its history, theory and criticism.   One thing was leading me to another.   I was giving myself my own MFA in theatre arts.   I was tempted to apply to an MFA program but I had way too much time in school for my own good.   I had graduated from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and went on to complete a J.D. at the Rutgers Law School and an LLM in International Legal Studies at New York University School of Law.        My work early-on doing tech turned out to be my most valuable experience.   I learned how to put up a showcase level  production.    I started to prod my actor friends to be more self sufficient,  self reliant.   We could produce our own shows.   Around 1985, I got together with a few actors from Michael Beckett's workshop at the H-B Studio on Bank Street and we decided to start a "company".   Working with Sara Emory, Samantha  Weber, Richard Dent and Mark Folger,  we called ourselves the American Playwright's Repertory Company and found a space in the basement of the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church on 92nd Street and West End.   We were going to produce plays by unheralded American writers,  not just the usual list of Odetts, Williams, Saroyan, Miller, etc.  I spent hour after hour at the Lincoln Center Library reading old plays that had never been produced beyond their initial run.  I was looking for that lost gem.  I almost lost my mind, they were horrible.  It was clear to me why the same plays by the same known writers were regularly revived and referenced as the core of American drama. We ended up mounting "Send in the Clowns" by Philip Barry followed by "The Adding Machine" by Elmer Rice.   Following these shows we realized that the concept or focus of the company was too limited and everyone drifted off to different projects.      After American Playwrights disbanded, I began working with two very efficient and talented self producing groups.  One was comprised of writers mounting their own works.    The other was actors intent on getting commercial gigs by attracting agents,  casting directors and/or managers to their shows.   Short pieces were the standard fare.   Four or Five original pieces about 20 or more minutes in length.   Lots of actors and a handful of writers could be showcased in one event.   I would act or direct as called upon.   And, I always had a hand in the tech.   These productions introduced me to many of the better actors, writers, and tech guys who were working at the showcase level.   During this period from 1983 to 1988 I was performing or directing shows everywhere.    I had enough experience and credits that I should have been trying to get an agent.  Instead, I wanted to be in a resident company like they had at the Classic Stage Company, the Pearl Theatre, the Cocteau Rep or LaMama, etc.   I was drawn to the smell of sawdust and the roar of 70 people.         As the years passed I was worked on show after show.  If it was possible to squeeze in performing, directing or contributing to more than one show at a time,  I welcomed the opportunity.  The list of appearances kept growing  and now that I am called upon to produce a resume,  I can recall most of the talented people I worked with and the theatre or performance spaces ......House of Candles, Nada, The Gas Station, The Piano Store, CBGB’s Gallery, Douglas Fairbanks Theater, John Cazale Theater, Kraine Gallery, La Mama, Theater for the New City, Cucaracha Theater, One Dream, Franklin Furnace, The Workhouse, Pyramid Club, Area Club, the Tunnel, St. Mark’s Church, Limelight, LIU-Brooklyn, Triplex Theater @ BMCC, Knitting Factory (Tribeca), 78th Street Theater Lab, Theatre 22, 14th Street Y,  92nd Street Y, Dance Theatre Workshop, Producers Club, Pantheon Theatre, the Soho Rep.,  The Muse Theatre,  Gene Frankel Theatre,  Westbeth Center,  West Bank Cafe, New Dramatists, NYU,  Hunter College, Samuel Beckett Theatre,  Acorn Theatre,  HERE, Ohio Theatre, Pearl Theatre, Gene Frankel Theatre..... but,  I can't recall the names of all the shows.         I never had to audition for work in shows which probably wasn't a good thing.   I met so many actors and directors that I was always being recommended for work.   It was also during this time that I started to think about theatre as a thing unto itself rather than some unfortunate necessity on the way to a career as an actor in film or TV.  I was thinking about theatre as a whole.   Acting (or the obsession with "good" acting) was one part of a bigger picture.  I felt like I needed to be in a space full time to be able to try things,  like a studio to work daily.      In the fall of 1988,  my friend Paul Allman, an outstanding writer,  contacted me about performing in a play he had written titled "Otis Furioso".   He wanted me to play Otis.  It was staged at the historic St. Mark’s Church and produced by Regenesis as part of a double bill.   Paul put together a who's who of the downtown performance scene for this show.   Peter Mattei directed and the production was designed by Teddy Jefferson.  The cast was comprised of members of the Cucaracha Theatre and actors that Paul and I had worked with as part of the playwrights' group I mentioned earlier.    The other play on the bill was Evan Gubernick's Motorhome.    This show was a spectacular success.        Following this show in the spring of 1989 I found myself in a series of call back auditions to be part of the Cocteau Rep down on the Bowery.    Following the great vibe of Paul's "Otis Furioso" I had some good will to cash in and I was in the final handful of actors being considered for a spot in the company.   I was auditioning with a classical pieces that I memorized on the spot since I really didn't have a trusted few monologues.   A few days before the final round of auditions I got a call from John Bach, an old classmate from Michael Beckett's workshop.  He was working with two guys from his class with William Alderson and they had a space.   And, they wanted to turn the space into a performance venue... a theatre. It was on located on the corner of Broome Street and Varick St.      I met with John and Mark Hannah and Thomas Wherle at their space.    We decided to work together to build what we would call the Broome Street Theatre.   This is what I had recently been dreaming about.   Having my own space to work from.  To be able to get up in the morning and go to the theatre and leave the theatre in the early morning hours and go home to sleep.   All of the showcases and productions,  the law school,  the music and art lessons as a kid,  all the tech work would find an outlet.      We had no other resources but our sweat and we used plenty of sweat and our own cash to buy the materials to build the space. Wood, tools, nails, paint, fabrics, etc.   We were doing more construction than anything else.   My brother John was in the MA architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania.  He came up with his friends to help us do the structural work and build a fire door since we needed two egresses for fire code.    The space was owned by the Petrocelli family.   A prominent family whose electrical company had the contract with the city of New York to maintain traffic and city lighting.    They were a bit reluctant, somewhat curious, at times supportive but, in general, OK with the idea of a theater operating on the ground floor of their otherwise residential building.      Our first order of business was to attract actors and then build an audience.   We decided to mount a one act play festival and use public domain works as much as possible to avoid royalties. I had performed in a bunch of these festivals and they were a good way to get people into the house.    We dug up one acts from Moliere to Chekhov and Pirandello all dealing with obsessive love.   The turnout for the auditions was excellent and we were confident we could build a company from the ranks of the performers we cast for the festival.    It is not an exaggeration to say that hundreds of actors attended the first weekend of auditions.   We had to be organized just to get through this marathon.           The success of the one act festival solidified our presence on "the scene" and we were off and running.  We did find a great corp of actors who were interested in being part of a resident company. Since we always seemed to be doing more construction than rehearsing we called ourselves The Lumber Company at the Broome Street Theatre.    The core of women that agreed to work with us were outstanding (Julie Sheehan, Ann Osmond, Ellen Korbonski, Barbara Ginsberg) talented, intelligent and energetic. My old friend Marc Folger joined for shows when he could.   Both he and Michael Dorsey were studying with Uta Hagen.        At the Broome Street Theatre we produced a mix of classical work and original pieces.    Ann and I started an after work series we called "Theatre of the Happy Hour" where performers came by and put up their work.    We had a great turnout for this series and performers used it to work on new material or practice monologues. The first full major full length we mounted was a work titled "Pains of Youth", which is when  Ann Osmond brought Diane Specioso into the group to design costumes.     Our neighbor on Broome Street was an alternative New York High School - The Door.    We developed a very satisfying working relationship with the Door.   Students were allowed to come into the theatre and watch rehearsals or participate in improvisation or movement workshops.   I would also run workshops at the Door in acting and we would create and video tape scenarios written by the students.   A group of students led by Israel Villa and Joseph Mason...... eventually produced their own shows and became friends and collaborators for years to come.      As a resident company we produced a blend of classic and original works.    We also learned to function as a "presenting company" . In these instances we would co-produce the work by allowing the guest artists to come in without any front money and work on a split of the proceeds from the box office.    A group of actors and designers led by Eric Guilloty and Richard Gilman all of whom had recently graduated from NYU's Theatre Arts program work with us very successfully on several productions.         In 1991 the Lumber Company at the Broome Street Theater faced the reality of moving to another space.   The search for a new venue was spearheaded by Diane Specioso, Melissa Krawitz and me.    We scoured the listings and visited many large spaces.   When we settled on the space on Leonard Street people had to make a decision if they were going forward or in another direction.   A group consisting of Hossein Fassa, Diane Specioso, Eddie DiDonna, Paul Allman, the gang of NYU grads, and me decided to make the move together.  We also met Dan Wackerman along the way who was interested in developing his own company and partnering in the development of a new space.        The result was the Tribeca Lab at 79 Leonard Street.   The most controversial aspect of the space at the outset was its location as a sub-basement space.    But it was a finished basement and it wasn't totally underground because of the nature of the street and vault space along the old cast iron loft buildings in Tribeca.  There was an air shaft along the back wall and the space was large. My brother, John Ramos, designed the layout so that we could have a bar and gallery area in the front of the house {and a dressing room with tech booth midway and the theater at the back}.  The performance and audience area was conceived to be totally flexible.   Seats (from the old film forum) were mounted in groups of four on mini risers and could be rearranged to suit a director’s design.   This meant you could come to see shows and never see the same configuration more than once or twice.         Then Eric and Richard's gang put up the first full length, Marlowe's "Faustus",  with Ian Hill in the lead.    During this run we discovered that the noise from the next door space ( a judo academy) was audible always an the most awkward moments.   My brother was called on again and he sound proofed the entire space. Their was a large drain pipe along the back wall which happened to be a beautiful red brick structure.   Mark Folger offered to paint the pipe one weekend.   When he was finished the result was amazing. He didn't just paint the pipe he executed an photographically accurate work of tromp l'oeil on the pipe to blend it optically into the brick wall.         I won't write of all the productions we did at Tribeca Lab but we did solidify as a company during this period.   Once fall settled in we were well on our way to fully completing the work.   Diane had been hired by A Group of Actors, Stuart Rudin and Billy Otis to design costumes for a production of the Seagull to be performed at the Muse Theatre.   I offered Stuart our space for rehearsals since we were only a few blocks from the Muse on Canal and West Broadway.   We all came to know each other better and found we had very similar outlooks on the theatre scene.  Nick Lindsay was planning a show titled "Made to Be Broken" written by his friend Nathaniel Hunt.  Nick and Nathaniel used to perform at Broome Street in our Theatre of the Happy Hour.    Nathaniel's show was the first original play produced and performed at the Tribeca Lab.   I assisted in design and lighting of the set and Melissa and I ran the tech for the show, diane designed costumes.     Hossein Fassa produced a late night comedy/performance show with live music called "Night Lab".  He had a very talented cast  (Lynda Bridges, Walter Krochmal, Don Egan, Jonathan Lewis, Lynne McCollough) and developed original material that was way ahead of its time. Dan Wackerman was also developing his company with Kevin - Pecadillo.  He brought together talented actors and designers and regularly produced work, many pieces written by himself.     Meanwhile Nick and Stu and Billy would talk to me about what they had been doing as A Group of Actors.   We knew we wanted a way to develop new material,  to experiment.    This resulted in Basementwerks.  Every Friday night we put on a new late night Basementwerks show.    Night Lab would run on Saturday late night.    We would meet at Nick's apartment on Monday nights and read new material.   Sometimes we would invite a writer or  performer we knew to join the show.   Toby Huss was contributing regularly.   It was very successful and several full length original works evolved from Basementwerks efforts.    Later in our tenure at Tribeca Lab,   Diane and Cat Oberg produced the musically oriented recurring show which was called "People Making Sounds" ( that’s right,  PMS ).   We had a lot of musicians and actors who were also musicians working with us or passing through doing shows.   PMS was a perfect way to take advantage of the variety of talents.

to be continued.....

Al Ramos is the Artistic and Producing Director of Tribeca Lab. He also functioned as Managing Director at 79 Leonard Street.