Peter Cramer Biography


Peter Cramer was born in 1956 in Bennington, Vermont. His father was a state senator, and moved the family to Massachusetts where he was the representative of Berkshire County. Due to his father's political connections, the family moved to the Virgin Islands. Cramer spent most of his childhood in the Virgin Islands until he moved back to Massachusetts to attend the Deerfield Academy, a preparatory school. After attending Deerfield, Cramer attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York for one year, where he studied dance under Melissa Hayden. Melissa Hayden was a newly retired ballerina from the New York City Ballet who was appointed to the head of the ballet department at Skidmore College. After leaving Skidmore College, Cramer moved to Washington D.C., still studying dance, working at the Kennedy Center and various restaurant jobs.

In 1978, Cramer was accepted into the School of American Ballet's summer session in New York City. He moved to NYC with a boyfriend and found a job as a baker to support himself while pursuing his first love of dance. In 1981, Peter Cramer met Jack Waters, a visual artist; in addition to dating, they would partner on many projects and organizations through the years and are still together today.

In the early 80s, he and Waters were the founders and driving force behind a dance and performance collective known as P.O.O.L. aka Performance On One Leg. P.O.O.L. " explored contact and other forms of improvisation, emphasizing combined theatrical forms, ritual, activism and group dynamic." (www.mindspring.com/~petmat/bio.html) It would be one of the many organizations the pair would have a lasting effect on.

In 1983, Cramer and Waters became involved in ABC No Rio, which is an artist run art spot on the Lower East Side of New York City, active since 1979 and still going today. They helped to run the program as co-directors for several years, until starting to transition out in 1990. During their time as the co-directors of the program, they helped to establish a program that brought together arts in education programs in neighborhood schools. Additionally, they established an internship program that allowed students to work with professional artists, rather than just limiting student involvement to gallery and museum visits, they were encouraged in the studio and given production assistance with performances and screenings. The program has been described as being indicative of the 80s time period in which it occurred, it was: "raucous, progressive interdisciplinary multi-media." (www.mindspring.com/~petmat/bio.html)

As Cramer and Waters started to transition out of ABC No Rio, they began the founding of Allied Productions, another art collective which also had a film program dubbed Naked Eye Cinema. In their founding of Allied Productions, they felt that they were moving to art with slightly different messages; often still political, but more campy and reminiscent of the club life at the time, versus the heavier, more didactic messages others were creating in ABC No Rio.

After experiencing the deaths of several friends due to A.I.D.S., Cramer was tested for H.I.V. in 1991 and tested positive, along with Waters. In Act Up's oral history interview, Cramer discusses his feelings about the disease, before he was tested.

People were dealing with their disease on their own terms. I just don't really feel like I was all that aware. I really just didn't want to - I didn't get tested until, I think it was 1991. So it took me that long from even Gordon's death (note: in 1986) to go ahead and get tested. So you can see the level of denial. (www.actuporalhistory.org/interviews/images/cramer.pdf)

Advances in medicine over time have allowed Cramer and Waters to keep their H.I.V. in check, never crossing the line into fully developed A.I.D.S. This has allowed them to keep working on their respective projects, in addition to collaborating on an A.I.D.S reflection installation that was shown at the NYC's Museum of Modern Art.

Cramer has had several exhibits/installations at NYC's Museum of Modern Art, In addition to at least a dozen film projects, Cramer has also stayed active with his first love of dance, choreographing many projects with ABC No Rio and Allied Productions and with other groups.

Today, Cramer has mostly stepped down as a director of Allied Productions, but he is still involved with side projects that have evolved from it and he is working on film and dance projects. He is currently the project director for an Allied Productions project, Le Petit Versailles. This project is located in the East Village, a Green Thumb garden that is a performance space and workshop area. Cramer and Waters currently live in New York City in the East Village.

The majority of this biography comes from the transcript of an interview done by Sarah Schulman, for the ACT UP Oral History Project. A pdf. transcript of this interview can be found at www.actuporalhistory.org/interviews/images/cramer.pdf.

Additional information and elaborations on projects come from three additional resources: Peter Cramer's biography on Mindspring.com, at www.mindspring.com/~petmat/bio.html and Allied Production's "About Peter Cramer" page, alliedproductions.org/aboutcontact-us/artist-peter-cramer/

And an oral history interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, 2007 Sept.6-Oct. 9, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. A link to the pdf. file of this interview can be found at www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/cramer07.htm

--Jillian Vidal, 2010

Peter Cramer