Squat Theatre—whose core members included Stephan Balint, Peter Berg, Eva Buchmuller, Peter Halasz and Anna Koos—was a major presence in the downtown art and theater world of New York, where the group lived and worked from 1977 until 1985. The collective formed in Budapest, Hungary as an independent theater company in 1970, during the Cold War. After their performances were banned by the Hungarian government, they resorted to performing in members' apartments—a solution they embraced. In 1976 the authorities gave them the "choice" to either cease doing theater or leave the country and never return. Squat emigrated—first to Paris and then to New York. In 1977, the company presented their first storefront play, a commission by the Rotterdam Arts Council in The Netherlands, taking the name Squat Theatre. Partially inspired by the squatter movement in the West, the company's new name also grew out of their determination to occupy blank spots on the map of artistic and intellectual terrain.
After emigrating to New York, Squat Theatre rented a four story building on West 23rd Street. The building's ground floor storefront became their performance space, and the collective lived on the floors above it. Seated on risers in the back of the store, spectators faced a stage in front of a window that looked out onto the street, providing a permanent, live, and often highly theatrical background to their performances. The action of an unscripted play would unfold in the space between the audience and the window, often inviting unwitting participation by the outside world.
With their radical notions of theater, Squat questioned role playing, the act of spectatorship, and the boundaries between art and life, the fictive and the real. In an essay included in the catalogue for the 1996 Squat Theatre exhibition at Artists Space, Alisa Solomon wrote: "Squat made spectators regard themselves in the act of spectating, and contemplate the complicity of their imagination in the construction of fictive events. Luring us back and forth over the boundary between art and life, they didn't seek to make that boundary vanish. ... The result was a series of cognitive double-takes, each startling and instantaneous, and complicating the one that had come before."
Squat Theatre's 23rd St. performance space also functioned as a venue for jazz, no-wave, and funk music, featuring performers such as John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, Sun Ra, and Defunkt.
The performance space was damaged by fire in 1979. In 1985, the group lost their lease on the building, and several of the original members of Squat Theater left the group. Stephen Balint continued to lead the company, directing new and original theatrical works such as the group's first proscenium piece, Dreamland Burns (1986), which was presented at The Kitchen in New York and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and L-Train to Eldorado (1987), which premiered at Brooklyn's Next Wave Festival.
Artists' Space in New York presented a retrospective of Squat Theatre's work in 1997.
EAI is pleased to present video documents of their three major theatrical pieces, Andy Warhol's Last Love, Child, Pig, Fire!, and Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free.