1. When in 1945 I left South Africa to come to London, where I won a scholarship to RADA - "je m 'avance" - like all ordinary human beings I did not realise I was in such a state of non-being, of "apparente serenite". (This also reminds me of the Breughel painting "The Fall of Icarus".)
Gifted with a beautiful bass voice, sport loving, full of unconscious frustrated energy, in spite of my need for it ("je m'interroge"), I had not yet started to explore dynamically, with my teacher Alfred Wolfsohn (1898 - 1962) the relationship between internal and external murder. (A film of the autonomic nervous system and of visceral movements should be included here.)
"BIODRAME .... is somewhat the story of my life"
Editor's note: This is Roy's personal essay written to accompany "Biodrame".
"Biodrame" was created for him by Serge Béhar, in 7 stanzas, as presented in the connections below.
2. This is my first singing lesson. Farts, belches etc. . . are not irrelevant noises, but sounds which belong to the human orchestra. "Le sang clair" is a tenor sound - generally associated with spirit, light, romantic love, femininity. In "la rengaine", the traditional concepts of opera, deep voice means body, depth, masculinity. In Roy Hart Theatre both men and women push their voices beyond bass and soprano in search of the human voice, as opposed to the specialised voice.
"L'inégalité" is the first political statement - direct reflection of the sense of hierarchy between the head and body, the visceral and intellectual functions which influence each other, but which need theatre in order to become complete in a creative synthesis of the extremes - thus nerves are necessary for they put the artist's body into a state of wakefulness.
3. Most actors and singers wear a mask, and their artificial acting only consists in hearing themselves speak a text which they have not digested.
I represent "les cordes" with a multiple sound containing several notes in a chord - we call it chorded sound. This sound fascinates many people, for they think this is one of the only sounds they can't imitate. I have often been labelled a vocal phenomenon - not to say a monstrous freak that could attract crowds to a circus. Machines of all kinds reflect the internal capacity for vocalisation, and not the other way round. These "generateurs de sons" are not the vocal cords, but all the cells, containing 'le grognement", the grunt being the tiniest possibility for cry in the music world they belong to.
"Humbles ou bourgeois" - another political statement, apparently in contradiction with the first, yet balancing it: prince or beggar, artist or not, we all depend on our arterial health. We consider singing as the highest form of liberation of arterial circulation.
"La" is the hypothalamus, at the foot of that step of the spinal column, ancestral inheritance of the old brain. The first Homo sapiens is emerging . . .
4. ... and slowly discovering consciousness. It is not enough to cry with the pack, in the street, at the theatre: it is necessary to know why one is crying. Ours is a strict discipline, according to an inclusive but not permissive philosophy.
In response to my first demonstrations, about ten years ago, shocked spectators, including artists who considered themselves as evolved, said my sounds were just fit for the psychiatric hospital, and certainly not for the stage.
"Accaparés par leur texte", conventional actors and singers did not dare to attempt discovering their unconscious. I studied psychology as an actor. Now I believe Roy Hart Theatre has truly outgrown psychodrama, whilst many avant-garde theatres are just beginning to discover it. Many actors only work on their technical capacity to wear a mask in order to hide the blood red substance which frightens them, but which, in my view, should nourish their performance. I believe it is necessary for the actor to contact in himself this capacity for murder, "l'amour et la rage". I discovered my own potential for murder, and the sound expressing it, while working with Alfred Wolfsohn on the scene of Desdemona's murder by Othello - then I no longer needed any decor, costume or prop to give my performance a seeming of truth.
5. Before I realised how much violence was hidden in me, like so many other actors, I was living in my head, "captif"
But this realization gave me the courage of my humanity: real biological revolution which gave body to my need for communion with another individual, "à bras le corps", new political statement. (Mariage de Lux and Ich Bin could be introduced here, for instance in a kind of orchestrated mosaic of these three works.) The cry is important because of the nature of the energy it expresses. Used in a creative flow, this energy becomes life giving; but when it is frustrated it can turn into destructive aggression - one of its forms is then a certain kind of silence, and cancer is another. Also the eyes become "meurtrières", because they haven't yet been unblocked and tamed. It is therefore necessary for the 'I' to make contact with the 'thou'. The human relationship of two people, not in competition, but in co-operation - that is, the couple in the most sacred sense of the word - is the basis of relationships with others, actors then audience. In the Roy Hart Theatre we give a great importance to human dialogue - in private, when for instance friends have tea together in the club restaurant, and in public, in the meetings, the whole group regularly attends - because it is a source of creative substance for our performances which in turn make our so-called private life richer. "Gloire et misère" of our daily routine in which survival is becoming more and more a problem. (A film of our daily life should be included.)
6. My "cheminement" of over 25 years since my first singing lesson is a biological process which organically fills the gap between theatre and reality.
Its fruit is "ce que je crie, c'est l'amour". My performance reflects how I make love and vice versa.
Paradoxically, my vocal range of about eight octaves now seems less sensational, "sans emphase", because the sounds I sing without a mask contain all the other sounds and notes I have embodied and filled with meaning during this endless search of pioneer in the desert, "petit point en suspens". . .
7. Thus I can contain with a certain calm, positively "indifferent aux lumieres eteintes", the anguish I am surrounded by.
To find again the true nature of performance, the simplicity of the little children of the Bible, a lot of time and sacrifices are necessary, for the cry is not an end in itself but a means, "rivés sur mes songes", a sublime hallucination, and the cry loses its significance if this aural vision is allowed to die.
8. I am also sending you a recording of our rehearsals of Paul Portner's Ich Bin, as an example of what I mean by the word reinstated in its true value in relationship to the cry. It is not necessary to understand German in order to abstract its meaning, since, as all great works of art, it is about transformation. Let me repeat that this transformation requires an immense control of the body which must be attacked to overcome it:
The following letter was written by Roy Hart to a French television producer who wished to make a film on the Theatre. In this letter, Roy introduces "an essay on his life and philosophy" which he proposed using as a script or framework for the film. This essay is inspired by the poem/play "Biodrame" written for Roy Hart by the poet and doctor, Serge Béhar. (Roy had performed "Biodrame" at the Theatre des Nations festival organised by Jean-Louis Barrault in April 1972). The television producer wanted to base the film on the Theatre's work with the scream but in this letter, Roy shows how the work of the Theatre has evolved beyond the scream. I include Roy's letter with his "essay" and its references back to the text of "Biodrame", in order to make a dynamic statement of "Who Roy Hart was" in 1973, a statement in his own words. He does this by cross-referencing the seven numbered divisions of his paragraphs with the seven stanzas of "Biodrame". If you click onto the links you will be given the relevent stanza and see for yourself his reference.
31st August 1973
I must assume your program is based on a sincere preoccupation, and not on a wish to be gimmicky. In which case it is necessary to put this program in a proper historic framework. Most so-called avant-garde theatres, operas, etc.. are beginning to recognize the intrinsic significance of what is called the cry: they no longer hear it as mere noise, but as having its own philosophical implications, not only for the evolution of musical theatre, but for people who sing, play, speak, that is to say for the human race. It is therefore necessary that your program should take into full account the way in which RHT, as related to the late Alfred Wolfsohn, has come out of the cry to reinstate the word. We have not outgrown the cry, which we have been practising for over twenty five years, but on the contrary we have absorbed it into every fibre of our being. For us, therefore, the word, i.e. philosophy, must remain paramount.
It is not by chance that in this year 1973 we are currently working on three major productions; "Biodrame" by Serge Béhar, "Mariage de Lux" by Serge Béhar, and "Ich bin" by Paul Pörtner. For us there is no going back to "AND", the performance which we presented last year at the Théâtre des Nations, since these three current works contain the distilled flowering of that which Catherine Backès-Clément attested to in her article on "AND".
Like all great works of art, these three works deal with the transformation of Man. This transformation has a special significance to you and us, since it reflects the need to understand the devastations of two world wars, and possibly even more significantly the apparently complete breakdown which is expressed both on the private scene between men and women, and on the political scene by hijackings, guerilla warfare and general street violence.
Through the use of the word, and its relevance to the voice and to the entire biological framework and mindscape which make up the individual, Serge Béhar, being a Doctor, poet and philosopher, wrote "Biodrame" in which he has expressed in theatrical terms the central thesis of that which led us to study the cry. The cry as expressed by dying soldiers, babies, human beings in distress, and also manifest in outbursts of joie de vivre. This means that man, as an individual, is the root of society. As a Doctor, Behar has understood that the political body expresses very clearly the biological body; and without a deep understanding of the Inside man, both physically and spiritually, no actor or politician can express so-called objective ideas, except as a projection of this lack of internal knowledge.
Thus, I do not present "Biodrame" as a straightforward, poem, but this solo literally expresses vocally, through a longstanding organic process of integration, the relationship between body control and vocal control, in other words self-control. This reflects the normal state of being, from the internal visceral state of the individual to his awareness of this state and control of it, then to political awareness, that is to say the need for dialogue with another, then with several others, which will lead us to the plays "Mariage de Lux" and "Ich bin".
I send you a copy of "Biodrame", and a kind of "script" to give you some material for work in preparation for our meeting.
Roy Hart's writings index page