My friend Ritsaert Ten Cate died
My friend Ritsaert Ten Cate died on Friday and I’d like to dedicate this blog to him, a small repayment for an immense debt that I and others owe the man.
Ritsaert was based in Amsterdam where, for many years he ran an amazing establishment called the Mickery Theatre. The word theatre is a red herring here, the space that he provided was an old cinema on the Rozengracht and here the most innovative artists and performance groups gathered on a regular basis to push the boundaries of their art. My friendship with Rits’ began in the early 70’s when I was with the People Show Performance group and was a time when the Dutch played host to an international stable of artists and in some ways worked effectively as an alternative to the Arts Council of GB.
I just pulled a book off the shelf, it’s a pictorial history of the Mickery between 1965 and 1987. On the 1st page is a shot of Nina Simone doing a performance and the last page shows Taganka theatre/school of dramatic art. In between those pages a dazzling array of international cutting edge talent.
Like most creative environments the Mickery was presided over by one man, Ritsaert. He had a great group of people around him, loyal and hard working but it was his personality that made the things happen. In those early days Ritsaert was a chain smoking, alcohol fuelled entrepeneur who made it his business to travel the world looking for the avent garde and then making sure they turned up in Amsterdam. The performance space was a shrine to Dutch ingenuity with a seating system that could become a set. I remember once Ritsaert had the idea to put the audience in hovecraft with curtain over the front, these craft would spin around with projections inside and then stop, the curtains would open and a new staging would present itself. To do this the space was cleaned out so that the floors could be made absolutely level. A multitude of small glasses were discovered, each with its own little culture of fungus, each one having been put down by Ritsaert and then lost for some years.
Ritsaert produced my first and 2nd shows and gave me the money to make my first ever film (Redheugh) which became the central image in the show I did. I can say that this 5,000 pounds got me going in film and without it things would be different today.
Ritsaert observed everyone doing their artistic thing and decided to move over from producing to directing and making his own art. He invited me to collaborate on one such piece entitled REMBRANDT, HITLER OR ME. I filmed the show and there is very cool record of this work.
In the last period of his life Ritsaert quit the Performance world, things were changing and I guess he knew it was time to move onto something else. I flew from LA to Amsterdam to film the last huge event. Many groups turned up to participate in the emotional farewell but I remember being not sad but positive about the closure of the Mickery. Looking back now I can see the huge gap that it left and how places like this are so vital for creative people to express themselves in.
For the next period Ritsaert founded an educational establishment. I visited with a view to maybe doing some teaching there. It was clear to me that it was maybe harder for Rits to express himself there. His emotional life was always interesting and he finally found his true love in a woman called Colleen who hailed from the USA. I remember meeting him in NY and how happy he was. About this time he began creating his own art and exhibiting with great success in Holland. We saw each other less frequently but kept in touch through friends. I think he just turned 70. I heard he was unwell a few months ago and was directed to a short film he made and placed on U-tube. If you feel like it you can check it out – type in “The Offering” or “Ritsaert” and you will find it.
Today his passing makes me very sad but I also know that what he did for us all was pretty damm cool and I will always have him in my DNA, as will many people who don’t even know who he was, that being the nature of art and how it all connects.

Mike Figgis
7th September 2008


Mike Figgis