When Alfred Wolfsohn was discharged from the German Military Hospital in 1919, it was not because he was cured of either the mustard gas poisoning, or from the ‘combat trauma’ that he was still suffering due to his military service in the first world war; on the contrary, it was because the doctors could offer him no further treatment. For the next ten years he struggled with an appalling state of health resulting from his experiences in the trenches.
Before 1914 he had pursued singing as an interest; partly because of the musical training he had had, but also because he had a naturally pleasing singing voice. However after the war, this was no longer the case.
In the ten years following his release from the hospital, one of the first means that he pursued to restore his health was to try and re-find his lost voice. He went to a number of highly reputed singing teachers but none of them were able to help him.
By 1930, he was sufficiently himself again to be able to continue his pre-war work as a singing coach for professional classical singers. They came to him to redress their vocal problems. In working with them, he began to realise that their vocal problems, like his own, were based not on their physical condition but on their psyche. At this time psychology was in its infancy, so those interested in the subject, like Alfred himself, were all searching. He soon began to get some very encouraging results; and many of his pupils showed sustained improvements in their singing capacities, as well as in their psychological condition.
Before he fled to England to escape the Nazis in 1939, one of his pupils was a young girl called Charlotte Salomon. She herself fled from the Nazis only a month before him, to go to the south of France where she painted her extraordinary autobiographical work of over 700 gouaches, entitled “Life? or Theatre?: A play with music”. She died in Auschwitz in 1943.
It was not until 1961 that a first exhibition of her work was presented in Amsterdam. Wolfsohn was utterly amazed to learn that this collection of paintings had depicted him and much of the thinking behind his vocal teachings. She had given him the pseudonym ‘Amadeus Daberlohn’. Her grasp of his work is quite striking. The paintings are held in the ‘Jewish Historical Museum’ in Amsterdam from which one can obtain information on books, a CD and future exhibitions of Charlotte’s work.
In the near future we hope that we will be able to publish of Alfred Wolfsohn’s book “Orpheus or the Way to a Mask”, written during his Berlin days in the ‘30s. Charlotte Salomon refers to this book extensively in her paintings. Tragically Alfred Wolfsohn died in 1962 having never seen “Life? Or Theatre?” so he neither knew what a great artist she had become, nor what a faithful practitioner of his teachings she had always been.
Charlotte Salomon was born into a Jewish family in 1917 in Berlin. She lost her mother when she was 9 years old. Four years later, her father, Albert, a surgeon, remarried the famous singer, Paula Lindberg.
In 1935, Charlotte is accepted at the National School of Academy of Fine Arts. She is the only Jew in her class. She meets the singing teacher of her stepmother, Alfred Wolfsohn, whose philosophy and research on art and life make a strong impression on her.
After Kristallnacht, the situation becomes untenable for Jews and in early 1939, her father sends her to her emigrant grandparents in Villefranche-sur-Mer, in a beautiful villa “Hermitage” at the invitation of a rich American.
In September 1939, her depressed grandmother makes a suicide attempt. While she revives, her grandfather confesses to Charlotte that her mother did not die from ‘flu as she had been told, but that she had committed suicide. In addition, six other members of her maternal family had committed suicide. Charlotte is devastated.
In 1940, she suffers a new test, she is imprisoned in the Gurs camp in the Pyrenees with her grandfather. Due to the fragility of her grandfather, they are released after six weeks on condition that she takes care of him. Back in the French Riviera, Charlotte is desperate.
Then she remembers her conversations with Alfred Wolfsohn and his encouragement of her art and decides not to commit suicide like her family, but to create something “really crazy and strange.” She begins to paint and for eighteen months she paints 1325 gouaches.
In 1942, her book is completed: it contains 769 gouaches, all annotated with text and music clips and songs to create ‘Life? or Theatre? ein singespiel “a play with music. The book is divided into three parts: Prelude: very detailed scenes of her childhood; the main part dedicated to Alfred Wolfsohn, theories and their friendly relations; Epilogue: her life in France with her conviction to transform her autobiography into “a book of basic truths.” Charlotte puts all the paintings in two large packages that she gives to her doctor “Keep them, they are my whole life.” Her grandfather dies in February 1943 and in June, Charlotte marries Alexander Nagler, an Austrian refugee. In September, the Germans replace the Italians on the French Riviera and the threats intensify. On September 21, Charlotte and Alexander are arrested at the Hermitage, Villefranche-sur-Mer and via Drancy, they are deported to Auschwitz. On 10 October 1943, at the age of 26 years, Charlotte, five months pregnant, was gassed. Alexander died of exhaustion on 1 January 1944.
Charlotte was successful in her stand; she did not escape the Nazis, but she avoided a suicidal death and succeeded in making her life a monumental work of art and of humanity.
Clara Silber, Malérargues 2015
Since 1971, Charlotte Salomon works are in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (Charlotte Salomon Foundation).
Roy Hart was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1926. He studied psychology and English at Witwatersrand University where he emerged as a gifted actor, and gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. At R.A.D.A. he was a successful student yet he felt, “that the characters I performed so convincingly were merely figments of my imagination . . . something was lacking”. His chance meeting with Alfred Wolfsohn was decisive and he abandonned a promising career in the ‘West End’ theatre to study with Wolfsohn. In search of that ‘something lacking’ he did not perform in public for the next seventeen years.
He emerged in 1969 to a period of intense international artistic and psycho-therapeutic activity: solo performances in Henzes’ “Versuch über Schweine”, Maxwell-Davies’ “Eight Songs for a Mad King” and Stockhausen’s “Spiral”; and Euripides’ “Bacchae” performed with his own company. He was guest speaker at psycho-therapeutic and theatre congresses throughout the world: Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Auther Koestler all came to speak with him in his studio in London.
In 1972, he began to perform as an actor with his own company which by that time had grown to more than forty members. The Roy Hart Theatre company took up residence at Malérargues in the south of France in 1974.
Roy Hart died in a car accident while on tour in May 1975. His wife, Dorothy, and friend Vivienne Young died with him.
They are buried at Malérargues.
If you are interested in researching the legacy of Roy Hart more in depth, please have a look at the Roy Hart Theatre Archives Website, hosted and maintained by Paul Silber.
Photo © Ivan Midderigh
The Roy Hart Theatre
Roy Hart was an actor, so it was natural that he began to use theatre texts with the group that formed around him after Wolfsohn’s death – eventually working with the whole text of Euripides’ “The Bacchae“. He insisted that everyone learn the complete text by heart before rehearsals could begin. As well as rehearsals there were hours and hours of dream analysis and research into the universal and individual unconscious.
“Don’t pretend to be a crazed, blood-thirsty woman, find her in yourself and be her”. Two years later the result was three hours of psychic improvisation that could be played forwards, backwards, jumbled-up or in gibberish, and never the same twice. This production influenced Peter Brook to create his “Marat/Sade”. Jack Lang took it to the Nancy Festival in 1969. The first performance there only had a small audience and half of them left before the end. The second was half full and again half of them left. The third was full, the fourth and fifth were packed-out to the rafters – still half of them left. It was “The event of the festival” and a legend was born. The name came after. At the Round House in London The Bacchae, largely improvised and renamed ” The Front Eye” caused a sensation. Subtly directed by Roy from behind a mobile grand piano on cartwheels, it was a gigantic ‘singing lesson’, but after Roy declared that from then on the work would no-longer be ‘51% therapy, 49% art’ but the inverse, and the theatre was born.
A series of experimental performances were developed which crystalized into “And“, between therapy and art. ‘And’ was an investigation into ‘pre-verbal’ theatre, it was organised improvisation – physical, musical, wordless, and… successful. It ended with “The Magic Chord”, a gradual crescendo by the whole cast from a harmonic chord to screaming – screaming until they collapsed in a heap from exhaustion eight minutes later. But Roy wanted words, even if they were incomprehensible. His last performance with the theatre, “L’Économiste” was in French – too obscure for London.
Interest in the work was much greater in Europe, so the company moved themselves and the production to Malérargues. During its first tour (to Austria and Spain) Roy was killed in a car crash along with his wife, Dorothy and Vivienne. In great pain and economic distress, the company recreated L’Economiste in requiem. “La Tempête“, the first creation without Roy continued the tradition of big touring productions. Meanwhile smaller creations emerged from the personal inspiration of individuals: L’Enthousiasme, Enchanté, Dites-moi, Te Pardi!, Le Roi se Meurt, Pan, Pagliacci, Musiques pour Marsyas, Moby Dick and many more.
Great performances and no two alike. At this apogee of Roy Hart Theatre the company decided to no longer use the name and the Centre Artistique International Roy Hart came into being in 1991 as an umbrella for the whole family of individuals and tendencies. If you are interested in researching the legacy of the Roy Hart Theatre more in depth, please have a look at the Roy Hart Theatre Archives Website, hosted and maintained by Paul Silber. There you can also purchase books, CDs and DVDs.
Photo © Richard Bruston
The Cévennes mountain region of southern France is renowned for its independence as evidenced by its resistance to the genocide of Louis XIV and the occupation of 3rd Reich. The Château de Malérargues has an exotic history bound up in these struggles and we like to think that in moving there in 1974 that the Roy Hart Theatre continued the tradition.
Le Château de Malérargues. We have turned a ruin into a beautiful place for learning, teaching and creation that welcomes students, educators, and the curious from all over the world, who come to find unique approaches to the voice, body, movement and psychology, which can be used not only in the field of performing arts but also in everyday life. The teaching is diverse, but always in the tradition of Roy Hart Theatre, based on the idea – first developed by the visionary, Alfred Wolfsohn and taken up by the actor Roy Hart in London that there is a profound connection between a person’s voice and their psyche.
Malérargues and the Cévennes were home to the Huguenot rebellion and to the protestant Camisards’ last stand against Louis XIV in the early 18th century. 2004 marked the 300th anniversary of the “Camisards War” and also the 30th anniversary of the buying and settling into Malérargues of the Roy Hart Theatre (1974.) This is not the only uncanny coincidence. Many Camisards fled to London where they created a sensation with their “Sacred Theatre” cults, especially with their inspired voices. They were dubbed “The French Prophets”. When the Roy Hart Theatre first performed in the Cévennes it was in local protestant temples with full-out “extended voices” gospel singing and a rumbustious rendering of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. There was talk of “the return of the voice to the Cévennes” and even rumours of “The English Prophets”…
During the Second World War Malérargues became a training school for the Resistance movement. Robert Francisque served under Henri Meyrueis, the owner of Malérargues, in a campaign in Indo-China. Robert left the army to enter into the service of Meyrueis at the Château. Given his military background, Robert “le Noir”, as he was known, was able to train the young cadets. He became one of the leaders of the Maquis of Lasalle and took part in many sabotage activities. He also played a dangerous double game of joining the Milice. In 1944, he was betrayed and paid with his life: he was shot in front of the Château.
Malérargues 1974 During a period from July to March the following year 47 members of Roy Hart Theatre moved from London to Malérargues – in that same period 5 roofs collapsed there. With little money and sleeping 6 to a room, with 2 baths a week (in 2nd or 3rd-hand water) and chemical toilets, we worked on the buildings and created “L’Economiste”. In May, on its first tour, Roy and Dorothy and Vivienne, the three most important persons in our Theatre were killed in a car accident. As well as the huge personal, artistic and inspirational loss, their deaths had merciless financial implications. We wondered if we should not give up and return to London.
We decided to resist.
Roy Hart Theater Archives
LA MEMOIRE / Clara and Paul Silber
“La Mémoire“, the archives room at Malérargues, was created in 2008 & 2009 by Paul and Cara Silber. This room contains the physical legacy of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre. This archive room is available for students and researchers of the voice work during their stay at Malérargues.
„Giving Context to the Voice Work“, is a life presentation, given by Paul and Clara Silber during the summer months. Paul and Clara give an introduction and show documentary films about the life and work of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre. They are also available to answer questions and discuss with the participants.
Paul Silber also runs an own archives website, where you can find more information and you can purchase CDs and DVDs on the legacy of the Roy Hart Voice Work.
ROY HART THEATER PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES / Ivan Midderigh
Over the past 45 years he, along with other photographers, Ivan Midderigh produced a huge body of work, consisting of thousands of images which will be added to the material that already existed before theatre was created in 1969.
The Roy Hart Theatre (RHT) Photographic Archives safeguards a visual record of an extraordinary story. A vast amount of photographic material, dating from when Alfred Wolfsohn, the founder of the vocal research work that influenced the Roy Hart Theatre, was a child, up to the present time; a 100 year, plus, history.
The history of the vocal exploration which was later to become known as the Roy Hart Theatre is a fascinating one. Although the company was formed in 1969, the vocal work had been researched for several years by a group of pioneers. They were to become the founder members of the Roy Hart Theatre, a company that grew out of this vocal research work, and whose groundbreaking work with the human voice had received world wide recognition.
The RHT Photographic Archives is an ongoing project by its own nature, since its aim is to witness a story that is continuing to evolve and grow.