My Life in the Theatre, by Jim Haynes


My first theatrical experience was a T.S. Eliot play (I think The Cocktail Party) in Shreveport, Louisiana way back in the 40s. I was knocked out.

In the 1950s, I managed to see South Pacific, Porgy and Bess and other Broadway shows.

In 1956, when I moved to Edinburgh, my theatre-going activities increased. Thanks to Edinburgh's Gateway Theatre, the Lyceum Theatre, touring productions at the King's Theatre (another production of South Pacific and John Osborne's Look Back in Anger) and every August the Edinburgh Festival. Glasgow, an hour away, had the Citizens Theatre. Plus many trips to London's West End. On a brief trip to New York City in 1959, thanks to Fifi Sigg, managed to catch the off-Broadway production of The Three Penny Opera with Lotte Lenya.

In the 1957 Edinburgh Festival, after attending Ugo Betti's Corruption in the House of Justice, I stopped my Volkswagen in the Royal Mile and asked three people, who I had noticed earlier sitting near me in the theatre, if they would like a ride. Once inside the car, introductions were made. They were Richard Demarco, his wife, Anne, and Anne's sister, Elisabeth. We drove to Hanover Street and the Laigh Coffee House. This began a collaboration that still continues fifty years later. This was one of the seeds that blossomed into the Traverse Theatre.

In 1959, I introduced myself, one early morning to two young Americans on an Edinburgh city bus: Red Williams and an attractive woman named Jane Quigley. This encounter was to have momentous repercussions. Red Williams, a Californian student "drop-out" from Harvard, was in Edinburgh to visit his friend. Jane, from Boston, was taking her junior year off from Sarah Lawrence University to study at Edinburgh University. When I related to them that I was building a bookshop in Charles Street, next to the university, they both offered to help. Their contribution helped to make the Paperback Bookshop a success story. This encounter was to be the inspiration for the creation of the Traverse Theatre and a great deal of creative activities. Jane performed in all the University Dramatic Society's productions culminating in the 1960 Edinburgh Festival fringe hit, Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams. She was the female lead and I was a taped off-stage voice. In this same 1960 Edinburgh Festival, the Paperback was transformed into a theatre and a production of David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion became the hit of the Festival. The senior drama critic, Harold Hobson of The Sunday Times, devoted most of his column to praising the production. This more than anything else convinced me that Edinburgh needed a year-round theatre devoted to new and exciting theatre and that Jane Quigley (who later changed her stage name to Jane Alexander) should be involved.

In 1959 I also met the London avant garde publisher, John Calder. After I wrote him a letter relating information about The Paperback Bookshop and a desire to stock and sell his titles, John called upon me shortly thereafter. Our long close friendship and creative partnership began. John was important in the early days of the Traverse.

The Paperback Bookshop presented two productions for the 1961 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a play entitled Trial of Heretics by the painter, Fion McCulloch, and a revue from Trinity College Dublin directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

In 1962, I opened, with the folk-singer Roy Guest, The Howff at 369 High Street. It was to be a coffee house and small performance space. Also during the Festival, John Calder, Sonia Orwell and I co-organized The Writers' Conference. Seventy novelists gathered from all over the world for a week to discuss the novel and contemporary issues. And The Paperback presented another production.

Roy Guest left Edinburgh after the Festival of 1962 (and the financial receipts also disappeared). This meant the closing of The Howff. Am I suggesting these two events had any connection? But it did encourage me to create a theatre club that would be jointly owned by all its members. A friend named Tom Mitchell offered the use of some premises he had recently acquired in the Royal Mile. This started the chain of events that would fairly quickly become The Traverse Theatre Club. It opened officially the 2nd of January 1963. (I personally date the opening of the Traverse to that first production in The Paperback Bookshop in the Festival of 1960.)

Officially I was the first Chairman of the Committee of Management. I asked Ricky Demarco to become the Vice-Chairman and Director of the Traverse gallery. The first Artistic Director, a fellow by the name of Terry Lane, became involved with the Traverse by accident. He was a friend of John Malcolm. John performed in the Paperback Bookshop production of Trial of Heretics and when he learned that I was planning to create a theatre in Edinburgh, he asked if he could be involved. I said yes, of course, because we needed all the help we could find. John asked if he could invite a friend of his, Terry Lane, to join our efforts. Again, yes. But as much as I tried to get along with Terry, it never happened. He did not want or seek my suggestions. From time to time, I insisted and managed to get my way occasionally. After the first year, it became apparent to me (and to others) that either Terry or I had to go. I was appointed Artistic Director and quickly established a policy that the Traverse would become a writers' theatre and that we would only produce new plays. This policy continues to this day.

In 1963, John Calder, Kenneth Tynan and yours truly co-produced The Drama Conference for the Edinburgh Festival and some 120 individuals connected to theatre from all corners of the world performed every afternoon in the McEwan Hall to a packed audience of theatre-lovers.

In 1964, I produced the English-language premiere of Brecht/Weill's Happy End at the old Pollock Hall. Directed by Michael Geliot, it was the hit of the Festival. In the Traverse itself, Charles Marowitz directed Gallows Humour by Jack Richardson.

After the Edinburgh Festival, I attended the Dublin Theatre Festival in October and there met Lindsay Kemp. Later we were to collaborate at the Traverse in Edinburgh and also in The Arts Lab in London.

Productions at the Traverse in 1965 included some 24 either British or World Premieres. My favorites were There Was a Man by Tom Wright, The Master of Two Servants by George Mully, The Wen and Orange Souffle by Saul Bellow, Green Julia by Paul Ableman, Happy Days Are Here Again by C.P.Taylor, Oh, Gloria by Robert Shure, and Onkel, Onkel by Gunther Grass - all World Premieres!

After the 1965 Festival, I organized a season of Traverse plays at the New Arts Theatre in London and took ten of our successful productions from Edinburgh.

In 1966, more World Premieres. All were critically well received: Allergy by C.P.Taylor and The Local Stigmatic by Heathcote Williams -to name but two. Then for reasons far too complicated to go into here, I resigned from the Traverse in Edinburgh and started (with Charles Marowitz, Michael Geliot and Ralph Koltai) The London Traverse Theatre Company at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre in Holborn. At about this time I was awarded The Whitbread Prize "for contribution to theatre in Great Britain". London was officially swinging and I was determined to play my part in it all. The Jeannetta Cochrane was a conventional theatre and it was difficult to do anything very unconventional in it. Still we managed to re-launch Joe Orton's Loot in a superb production by Charles Marowitz that transferred to the West End and ran a number of years. Another Charles Marowitz production, Three Saul Bellow Plays, transferred to the Fortune Theatre. We also staged Yoko Ono's first London "happening" as well as playing host to an underground film festival. (And I co-launched with Jack Henry Moore, Miles, John Hopkins and Michael Henshaw the infamous newspaper I.T.)

I resigned from the London Traverse Theatre Company 1967 because I wished to create The Arts Laboratory in two warehouses in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. The Arts Lab exploded on London and became overnight the place, the heart of London's underground movement. We had a cinema in the basement, a gallery on the ground floor, a theatre in another connecting warehouse and a restaurant upstairs. And I lived in the place.

Peter Ansorge, in his remarkable book, Disrupting the Spectacle - Five Years of Experimental and Fringe Theatre in Britain (Pitman Publishing, London 1975), writes: "…when an enterprising American, Jim Haynes, launched an experimental Arts Lab in London's Drury Lane, providing our more adventurous audiences with a remarkable shop window on a new theatrical phenomenon - the underground. In the space of a single year the Arts Lab spawned a new generation of young actors, directors and writers who were refusing to work within the context of conventional theatre institutions. With the closure of the Drury Lane venture in 1969 groups like Portable Theatre, Freehold, the People Show and Pip Simmons created a nationwide circuit of arts labs, campuses and youth clubs in which to display their highly individual wares to young and enthusiastic audiences. The contrasting talents and activities of the Drury Lane groups formed the basic diet of England's underground theatre network…An average evening at the Arts lab might have involved sitting through a highly subjective one-act play, listening to a combination of Cage and rock on the stereo system, watching the all-night films… it is impossible today to enter any of the new theatres, studios and workshops across the country without becoming aware of the immense debt owed to Haynes' Arts Lab." (Thank you, Peter.)

Peter did not mention the first Steven Berkoff production of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis in the Arts Lab that launched Steven as an actor, director and playwright. Read Steven's autobiography where he lovingly relates his Arts Lab experiences. Nor does Peter discuss the Jane Arden play, Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven, directed by Jack Bond and Jack Moore with music by Shawn Phillips. And the many Lindsay Kemp productions that had such a major influence on David Bowie.

In 1969 I moved to Paris to become an Associate Professor of Media Studies and Sexual Politics at the newly created University of Paris VIII (in the Bois de Vincennes). I still am in love with theatre, still attend the Edinburgh Festival every August and still produce small productions from time to time. Usually in my home. Some outstanding ones include Bob Kingdom's The Truman Capote Talk Show, Phyllis Roome's very autobiographical mini-musical about a young English girl finding her way in Paris and the two Michael McEvoy one-man shows that he wrote and performed.


When I look back on all my theatrical involvement, I have to note that there were certain productions and events that were extra meaningful. The two productions that the actor, Tutte Lemkow, performed in the Arts Lab, Kafka's Lecture to an Academy (directed by George Mully) and Moma Dimic's The Very Long Life of Tola Manolovic (directed by Jack Moore) are two of my favorites. Alas Tutte and George Mully are no longer with us. Happy End was another favorite. I think I saw every performance. By chance I happened to see the last performance of the 1987 Edinburgh Festival fringe production, Marlene, created by Damian Cruden and with Anne Marie Timoney playing the role of Marlene Dietrich. I invited them to perform it in Paris. It always brings a warm smile to my lips when I think of this production and the way Anne Marie transformed herself into Marlene. (I also saw Marlene herself sing in the Lyceum Theatre in the 1961 or 1962 Edinburgh Festival and went back stage afterwards to her dressing room and we talked for about thirty minutes. She complimented my sweater.)

I almost created a small theatre a few years ago on the Left Bank of the Pont Neuf. In the end I did not raise enough capital to purchase the small Bulgarian restaurant in the rue Nevers. Afterwards I was both sad and relieved. It would have been great. I would have liked to have produced Bremner Duthie's Whiskey Bars (based on Kurt Weill songs). I would liked to have produced Michael McEvoy's two one-man productions that he performed here in my atelier: one about George Orwell's life and the other entitled An Act of Will (that proves, to me anyway, that Christopher Marlowe wrote all the Shakespeare plays). Yes, there are so many productions that would be wonderful to stage in one's very own theatre. But I suspect it would probably kill me…

Jim Haynes
Paris, 13 May 2006




My Life in the Theatre, by Jim Haynes