Roy Hart Theatre at the "Abraxas Club"
When the RHT originally bought the “Hampstead Squash Club” in 1969, it was a splendid building in the style of the 1930’s. After the purchase, the theatre virtually rebuilt the club and greatly extended the building by adding another two floors above courts three and four.
;;;;;;;;;;;;When the new club was opened, it was renamed the “Abraxas Club” by Roy Hart. Roy had discovered “Abraxas” in his reading of CG Jung’s book “Seven Sermon’s for the Dead”. In it, Jung names “Abraxas” as the god that “creates synthesis between opposites”. Roy identified with this symbol very strongly.
"I believe they (the Roy Hart Theatre) are opening up an extraordinary vision of the possibilities of human attainment"
- newspaper journalist for the "Hampstead and Highgate Express"
Excerpt from the "Express and News" October 18, 1968
The entrance to the "Abraxas Club"
:::::.Sadly there is no colour photograph of this image of the frontage of the "Abraxas Club". What you are looking at in the above photo is a mosaic designed and ::::::::created by Paul Silber. The background was a vivid multi-coloured blue. The original club was called the "Hampstead Squash Club". It had four squash courts, ::::::::(now all converted into low ceilinged gymnasiums). Today in 2010, there is still a club to be found at the site - the address is 81 Belsize Park Gardens, London ::::::::N.W.3. If the current management is in the right mood, it will allow you in to go up to the top floor where the original sound proof studio can still be seen. It now ::::::::has a full wall mirror along the wall facing the windows, this was not there in our day, but you can still sense that something happened in that room - something ::::::::did happen in it!
It was one of the most formative times of the Theatre. The Cabarets originated by the work of Paul Silber, later assisted by Barry Irwin (these later came to be known as "Cathedrals") These were performed there nearly every Saturday evening, they became the precursors of many of the public theatre performances that we later gave. These events were mosaics of songs, poems, extracts from plays etc. that were performed from beginning to end as a unity, without any introductions of the various different elements...........They were the "training grounds" for exploring new material and working together as a group in very different contexts. We also trained physically and vocally regularly, and of course we were all regular players on the four squash courts that made up the club. Each member had their own singing teacher from within the group. We also met together very regularly under Roy's direction to talk of ourselves, our struggles, our dreams and our relationships: - all formative material too. And of course, we rehearsed for major performances: "and", "Mariage de Lux" etc. Our days were never boring!
..The Abraxas club restaurant
At the other end of the large restaurant dining room in which we performed these "Cabarets" there was this very pleasant bar. The theatre invested a great deal of its money on improving the clubs facilities. The club members enjoyed their Saturday evenings greatly and we benefited greatly from increasing our performing experience.
...........Here is the gymnasium workout room all newly established. Paul Silber, under Roy Hart's direct supervision, was the first gymnastic instructor :::::::for this space.
"One way to health"
by Peter Halstead
Several excerpts from his article in the “Hampstead Express”
"A much more than human voice began to warble; now throaty, now from the head, now hollow as a flute, now charged with yearning harmonics, it effortlessly passed from Gaspard Forster's low record on the very frontiers of musical tone to a trilled bat-note high above the highest C to which (in 1770, at the Ducal Opera of Parma, and to the astonishment of Mozart) Lucrezia Agujari, alone of all the singers in history, once piercingly gave utterance."
................When Alfred Wolfsohn read this description of the Utopian voice in "Brave New World", he wrote to Aldous Huxley: "Your vision has been realised in my work."
...............It was no idle boast. Wolfsohn, a voice psychotherapist, who was living and working in The Ridgeway, Golders Green, at the time of his death six years ago, found that by concentrating on the part played by different areas of the body, and by different attitudes of mind and imagination in influencing the production of sounds, he was able to develop a method of release for powerful latent energies in the human system"
Roy Hart at the opening ceremony of the "Abraxas Club"
..........."He treated the voice as the natural focus of expression for a wide range of unconscious impulses and eventually produced an 11-year-old boy pupil whose voice was capable of covering nine octaves. The average human voice has a range of up to 2.5 octaves."
COLLEAGUE"Yma Sumac, "the Peruvian nightingale,'' has a range of just over three octaves and is regarded as a freak of nature. Yet when the International Journal of Phoniatry published the findings of a detailed scientific examination into the voice of Jenny Johnson, another Wolfsohn pupil, whose singing voice covered 4.5 octaves, it was found that her larynx was the same as almost everyone else's, and was unstrained.
................Music critic Lionel Salter heard her sing in the mid-1950s and wrote: "She had to be heard and even then couldn't be believed."
...............Some seven or eight years earlier, Wolfsohn had attracted the interest of Roy Hart, a young South African on a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, who became his close disciple and colleague.
................When Wolfsohn died he bequeathed his inspiration to Hart, his natural successor. Now Hart presides over what he calls a "combined Church/Theatre/Gymnasium/Clinic" at the Abraxas Club.
...............He told me: "While at RADA I had known for some time that my voice was not rooted, not literally embodied, that the various roles I had to perform so well were actually only figments of my imagination with no connection with my body................"When I left RADA I was offered a very promising opening in the theatre, but I turned it down. I can now see that this choice was governed by an inescapable bias. The human species has always kept a precarious balance between the instinct to consolidate the status quo and the instinct to break barriers to extend the fields of awareness.
.............."We who meet at the Abraxas are birds of a feather who form an avant garde group. When the status quo shows serious cracks, discerning minds gather to study current trends seeking to interpret some message for future consolidation. Those who read the signs correctly and act on them are quietly making history. I acted on such a sign when I met Alfred Wolfsohn.
................"I was introduced to his studies and became concerned with the relationship between voice and personality, especially as this manifested itself in a spectrum of energy production varying from apathy to intensity.
............../"Most people I met, even many professional athletes, were unrelated to their bodies: the voice was a key to the insights I sought after, insights into an integrated mind-body relationship in the individual, whatever his profession.
................"Singing, as we practise it, is literally the resurrection or redemption of the body. The capacity to "hold" the voice in identification with the body makes biological reality of the concept 'I am.' The ability to hold fast with the whole body in vocal production can, with correct training, develop an ability to hold fast in complex situations.
................"Concentration is a summoning of the whole body in one effort. True concentration is prayer. So it is not surprising that the mental and physical demands of our work caused our meeting place gradually to be regarded as a combined Church-Theatre-Gymnasium-Clinic—a place where the energy of body and mind unite in an effort to live more consciously, through the medium of creative art.
................"The Abraxas Club, with all its health-promoting facilities, was an expansion of our philosophical work, though not everyone joining the club will be interested in our particular philosophy."
.................Hart played me an unedited tape of himself exploring the eight octave range—sometimes using four different strands of sound simultaneously—to demonstrate "the biological education of the personality through the voice."
.................The sound leapt aeons ahead of Schoenberg's "Sprechtimme" into realms far beyond the limits of emotional expression, as it is encountered in life as most of us are used to living it..................I am not the first person to find conventional language inadequate to express the physical and mental impact these human sounds are capable of making on the listener. Arthur Koestler once heard them at a private demonstration in London and exclaimed: “This is black magic!”
................Perhaps Aldous Huxley's comment is the most lucid and provocative. He wrote to Wolfsohn: "Your experience with the training of the voice serves to deepen a conviction which has been steadily forming in my mind during recent years, namely that the supposed physiological or psychological limits to the human being's achievements in every field of activity do not lie where they have been (arbitrarily and on inadequate evidence) placed, but are capable of very great extension, if and when certain conditions of mind-body training are fulfilled.
..............."My own experiences with, and observation of, the process of visual education, as developed by Dr. W. H. Bates and his followers, have shown very clearly that seeing can be enormously improved by suitable methods (fundamentally psychological in nature), in spite of the fact that the organ, according to orthodox ophthalmologists, is physically incapable of seeing any better.
...............Recently I have had some experience of, and second-hand acquaintance with, the work of Dr. Samuel Renshaw, the distinguished Gestalt psychologist who teaches at the University of Ohio.
..............."Using the tachtystoscope (a flashing magic lantern, which projects images for periods ranging from a tenth to a 2,000th of a second) Renshaw has trained many persons to perform feats of seeing normally regarded as completely impossible.""
"Huxley also wrote of a book by the German psychologist, Eugen Herrigel, "Zen and the Art of Archery", describing a Japanese technique which "enable utterly incredible feats of skill to be performed, beyond all the ordinarily accepted limits of possibility."
............He added: "In all these cases, the principle employed appears to be the same—the principle that maximum proficiency is achieved when activity is combined with relaxation: relaxation of the surface will and the conscious ego, leaving the way clear for activity by the Entelechy, the Vegetative Soul or, on a yet deeper level, the Atman-Brahman."
...........I watched Hart's pupils—they can all effortlessly break the 2.5 octave barrier, and insist that you and I can too—in a rehearsal of "the Bacchae" of Euripides.
...........A force generated by the group's total personality and body release into all the psychological nuances of the original text broke another barrier - the actor-audience barrier. Not surprisingly, Peter Brook is one of the group's most ardent admirers.
............The actors make full use of the unique dramatic instrument of the multi octave voice and sound man’s hermaphroditic depths by using both male and female pitches and doubling up on opposite gender roles.
............My own words surprise me, but at one point, assailed by the widest imaginable range of emotive noises, I imagined I heard that Wolfsohn called the Voice of the Future, and through which—to use Hart's words—"a bold yet helpless creature tries to outdo the dangerous siren-voice of the Void."
............Hart, like his "guru" Wolfsohn, is not a mystic in the ordinary sense of the word. I was reminded rather of Einstein, whom Wolfsohn was fond of quoting: "The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and most noble fountain of science.""
Paul Silber reflects
Roy had for many years referred to himself as “a bridge builder”. I can testify that was true. Not only did he have a capacity to create relationships between unlikely people but he was also a bridge maker between incompatible concepts. This was one of Roy’s many gifts as a leader of his theatre. It was never to be found in any of his students that followed him.
;;;;;;;;;;;It was only after Roy’s death in 1975 that the great differences that existed between many of the members in his theatre began to make themselves felt. Even so, when one of our members declared in 1976 that “we were all reverting back to type” this comment was not very well received by the theatre. In the event, it was certainly rather anticipatory. Many of us at that time had worked with Roy for ten or more years, therefore it was unlikely that in under ten months the result of all this training was going to dissipate so fast.
;;;;;;;;;;;In the thirty years that have followed Roy’s death these differences have continued to cause occasional frictions between us. But at no time have our capacities to communicate with each other totally failed. Now, in the last five years starting in October 2005, these ever increasing distances between us have been getting bigger at an alarming rate. Finally in this year of 2010, there has been total collapse of relationships between members. I fear that this division will never be reversed. Sadly this event does mark the end of Roy Hart’s theatre, certainly the end of his “Abraxian” influence over us perhaps not affecting his work but definitely his theatre.