Squat Theatre, Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free (1981) Pictured: Sandi Fiddler as the Unidentified Flying Dancer
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.
The program on November 6th will feature the film Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free, described by Squat Theatre as "an open journey through situations, styles and moods; an 'Arabian Nights' with heroes and legends written on the New York wind whistling the melody of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'" In an indelible sequence that typifies Squat Theatre's idiosyncratic cultural references, the underground pop icon Nico performs New York, New York, closing the play.
Since a 1996 retrospective at Artists' Space in New York, Squat Theatre's video work has been rarely seen. Buchmuller and Koos will appear in conversation with Sanders and Cleman at EAI for a discussion that will touch on their installation included in Rituals of Rented Island at the Whitney, as well as Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free (1981–83) and other important pieces from the period, such as Andy Warhol's Last Love (1978–82) and Pig, Child, Fire! (1977–1982), all three of which are in EAI's archive. Judith Halasz, a second generation member of the collective, and Sheryl Sutton, a performing artist and dancer who collaborated with Squat Theatre during this period and performed in the film and the live show of Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free, will be present to contribute to the discussion.