Ian Magilton is a founder member of Roy Hart Theatre, an actor preoccupied by the links between music and drama. O.B.I.E. winner with Pagliacci at La Mama, New York, and Prix Jean Vilar Printemps des Commèdiens, Montpellier. He shares his time between the Roy Hart Centre, France, and Trondheim, Norway.
Has taught at the following institutions: Rimfaxe Teater Roskilde Denmark; Unge Klara, Riksteatret, Stockholm; La Mama ETC, New York, CAIRoy Hart Malérargues, France, Teaterhuset Avant Garden, Norway; universities of Montpellier, Tel Aviv, New York, Connecticut, Yale, Duke, Tunis, Rabat and Trondheim.
What kind of workshops do I give? I can’t simply describe exercises I might use. They are in the tradition of Roy Hart Theatre and use the voice as the primary tool to explore the self: - extension of the range, size, colour and character(s) and especially, embodiment. But that is not enough, rather say: -
I am in a constant search for myself. That self is the only really valuable thing that I can offer to the world - and to me. Hamlet had something to say along those lines, I believe. I work to stay as close to myself as much as possible, and there are moments when we do actually meet and I simply «am». The total engagement of the body is essential to these moments.They often occur when I am singing or acting, and that’s why I work in theatre. When I give a workshop it is always that I am aiming for; to give the student the best possible chance to «touch» themselves. I am convinced that to the degree that the actor or singer(or postman) manages to touch/meet himself, an audience will be touched, even if they don’t understand anything else.
It sounds intense, doesn’t it, but it isn’t really, after all in theatre the end result is called a «play».
The "Beyond Technique" project is a new evolution of the approach designed for advanced students.
Milano 8/9/10 February 2013. Information and inscriptions at:
Roma 15/16/17 February. Information and inscriptions at:
30 March - 1 April HumanVoice with Marianne le Tron
19 - 24 May Breath with Marianne le Tron
25 - 30 June Midsummer Singing with Marianne le Tron
23 - 28 July Soul
13 - 18 August "Acting Singing" with Nuria Inglada and Orly Asody
20 - 25 August Your Own Voice -Your Own Music with Christiane Hommelsheim
Imitation and Identity via the work of Roy Hart Theatre
Published in Drama nordisk dramapedagogisk tidskrift
A voice is an identity, as precise as a finger print. But we don't have only one voice, we have many voices, and each one of them an identity… Sounds like a recipe for schizophrenia! but in fact it is a route to sanity. At the end of his adventures, diagnosed as mad and dying, Don Quixote declares, "I know who I am, and I know too that I am capable of being not only the characters I name, but all the twelve peers of France if I want to be, and all the nine worthies of Spain, too, for my exploits are far greater than anything they have done, either all together, or each by himself." I believe him. And the way Don Quixote has achieved this immortal fame is by 'playing', pretending, or imitation. Of course it is best to know what one is doing, and that is where acting comes in. Hence, Roy Hart Theatre.
The vocal research which is the essential creative inspiration of RHT is based on a belief that our voices are very much bigger than we think, certainly bigger than we normally use, and that there is a profound connexion between our voice and our self, which is in turn very much bigger than we realise or normally admit to. The work was originated over 80 years ago by Alfred Wolfsohn in Berlin. At that time and perhaps still, the principle idea about the voice was that sounds were produced by the larynx and resonated in the head - mainly. To a large extent this is probably true, but the expression, the beauty and the quality that makes us want to listen comes from the body, the heart, the stomach, the genitals, even the knees, and from the soul. "The voice is the muscle of the soul".
Alfred Wolfsohn as a young man wanted desperately to become a singer and though he trained diligently according to all the techniques available at the time, he failed, and couldn't help himself asking, "Why?". His epiphany came on one of the most horrific battlefields of WW1. He was a stretcher-bearer and it was his job to go out into 'no-man's-land' among the machine gun fire to collect the wounded. He reached the point where he was so exhausted, horrified, frightened and confused that he could no-longer carry on. Cowering in his trench he heard a soldier screaming, "Komrad, help me!" and he couldn't. The screams continued more and more intensely and still Wolfsohn could not move to help, until eventually the soldier died. They found Wolfsohn at the end of the day, delirious under a pile of such dead. Those screams haunted him throughout his life - "How could they be so loud, so powerful, containing so many octaves? - at the point of death!" He made the connexion to the first cry of the new born baby - prevailing wisdom suggested that it was a good idea to hang the baby upside down and smack it so that it might scream. How could it be that we have such huge voices at the two most fragile moments of our lives and yet chose to live in one octave? After his rehabilitation, working as a singing teacher he became more and more interested in these 'un-lived' octaves. He saw the normal voice, even the trained voice as just the tip of the iceberg. He found much support in psychoanalysis and its notions of ego and subconscious. He began to investigate the submerged nine-tenths and the 'negative reality', for he had endured Hegel's 'absolute fear'. Hegel is difficult, as he, himself famously said, "Only one person has understood me, and he got it wrong" , but certain phrases make sense in terms of Wolfsohn's thinking, especially the idea of a 'negative reality' and the notion that real understanding is only possible when life is drenched in an absolute fear as his had been. Also his triangles of Thesis and Antithesis and Synthesis, Abraxas the classical Greek god of synthesis has been important to the development of RHT. Here is a little quotation from Jung's Seven Sermons to the Dead:
My generation in Europe has had an amazingly easy life, no wars, no famine, no pestilence, I have never been 'drenched in absolute fear'. This makes it difficult for us to go deeper, to find fields of action where we can work on universal problems. As I am not at the moment of birth or WW1, then until the moment of my death theatre must be my field of action, my battlefield. A good actor might just be able to get into Heaven or Hell and get back unscathed.
Roy Hart came to London from South Africa in 1955 to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He met Wolfsohn and was immediately impressed, because, as he wrote in his diary, "He sees me as something more than just another specious actor", and became his pupil. At that time Roy was working on Othello and although his work was generally admired, he was dissatisfied, he felt that it was just actors tricks and spoke to AW about it. "Why?" asked Wolfsohn. "Because I can't believe in it, I am not a murderer, I would never kill someone I loved through jealousy - on the evidence of a handkerchief!". "Lock the door", said Wolfsohn, they were dining together in Roy's lodgings, and he proceeded to give Roy what he called a singing lesson. He goaded, provoked, teased and insulted Roy for more than an hour until he became so angry that he wanted to strike Wolfsohn, to kill him, he afterwards admitted. At which point Wolfsohn calmly asked him, "So you are not a murderer?" His point, borrowing from Jung was that we are all inhabited by the archetypes - lover, killer, hero, Queen of the Night, Zorastro, Hitler and the Jew, and that if we do not sing them, they, given the right circumstances, may very well sing us.
Wolfsohn's interest was in singing, which for him was infinitely more than making sound and resonating it. Roy Hart was an actor, which brings me back to the wonderful theme of Identity and Imitation - actors are the great imitators. I, personally am in a constant search of myself, in this context we can say, of my identity. That self, is the only really valuable thing that I can offer to the world - and to me. Hamlet had something to say along those lines, I believe. I work to stay as close to myself as much as possible, and there are moments when we do actually meet and I simply «am». Those moments are most often when I am singing or acting - imitating, and that’s why I work in theatre. When I give a workshop it is always that I am aiming for; to give the student the best possible chance to «touch» themselves. I am convinced that to the degree that the actor or singer (or a postman) manages to touch/meet himself, an audience will be touched, even if they don’t understand anything else. How to explain this conundrum that it is through play/imitation that one can become oneself/identity? I would like to offer three images that might help.
In a rehearsal of 'Marriage de Lux' in 1973 we were trying to make sense of a particularly incomprehensible passage and as was his wont in the face of incomprehension, Roy went deeper. We were improvising with the words - C'est possible, je t'aime, te quero, e possible. The situation evolved where Roy and I were face to face beseeching each other with these words with intense sincerity. It was incredibly real, one of the most real moments of my life, AND that it was acting. I knew that if at any moment either of us had shown the slightest sign of disbelief, it would collapse. I can't remember how we got out of it, but we did.
Then, I once was looking into the eyes of a young woman who was actually at that moment trying to push a knife into her husband's gut - Don't ask me how I get into these situations… it seems to be a speciality of mine - There was no emotion showing in those eyes at all. If we murder someone, as AW suggests is possible, it is most likely to be an accident. If not through blind, incoherent hatred, as in my young lady's case, then carried away by our emotions. Either way we will probably not realise what we are doing, but if an actor playing Othello murders Desdemona, it must be done consciously.
My third image is of the surviving guards from Auschwitz, Treblinka etc. They were responsible for and performed almost unbelievable evil, yet today they are upright, clean old men without an apparent spot on their conscience. They stand by what they did and consider themselves good men. They were not only in Hell, they were Hell, and yet it leaves no trace on the 'A-part'.
Pretending is a conscious act, actually doing it often isn't.
Back to Hegel, he says, "Without the discipline of service and obedience, fear remains formal and does not spread over the whole known reality of existence, it remains inward and mute, consciousness remains merely a vain and futile 'mind of its own'". Our upright, clean old SS would probably agree. 'Discipline of service and obedience' are expressions that make me nervous, especially in political or social contexts, but to an actor they are fundamental, on stage he does not have a 'mind of his own'. We are all of us acting our identity, it is necessary, but when an actor - a serious one at least, choses consciously to create and imitate an identity he obeys it with his best discipline of service and it becomes himself.