- Squat TheatreStaging Life/Living on Stage
Squat Theatre is known for having presented provocative, avant-garde performances in a New York storefront from 1977 to 1983. The stage was situated inside, in front of the window. Seats on risers served as the auditorium in the back of the store. The audience watched what transpired on the stage and beyond it, through the window, in the street—an extension of the stage, or a living background, if you like.
Our collective work began in Budapest in 1970. We were young artists, poets, former members of a university ensemble who formed an independent theatre company. In the Cold War, the Communist government in Hungary did not tolerate gatherings, cultural or otherwise, beyond its direct control. Our performances were banned in 1972. After four more years of skirting around prohibition (performing underground on the fringes of officialdom, mostly in private apartments) and fending off infiltrating informers, the police, and even the neighbors, our theatre company was given the green light to emigrate, with four small children in tow.
The core of the group which stayed together from 1970 until 1985 included five friends, namely: Stephan Balint (1943–2007), Peter Berg (b. 1947), Eva Buchmuller (b. 1943), Peter Halasz (1943–2006), and myself, Anna Koós (b. 1948). (Since our personalities mattered much, here I call us by our first names except Berg, to avoid mixing up the two Peters.) In the fifteen years of our collaboration, several other people joined us and sooner or later parted with us, two more children were born, and languages changed. We took the name “Squat Theatre” in 1977 when our first storefront performance—Pig, Child, Fire!—premiered in Holland. After a successful run at the festival of Nancy in France, we crossed the Atlantic and settled in New York. From October 1977 to October 1985, Squat rented a building in Chelsea, at 256 West 23rd Street. We had a storefront to perform in, and three more floors in which to live. None of this happened as happy-go-luckily as it may seem in an abbreviated history.
Performances do not usually survive their making. They may at best be remembered by everyone present. Plays we did not write; scenarios we agreed on among ourselves and kept in our heads; acting we shunned from the start; methods we did [End Page 24] not learn or teach. After describing the succession of events on stage and publishing the texts used in the performances (Eva Buchmuller and Anna Koós, Squat Theatre, New York: Artists Space, 1996), I embarked on writing a book about the ways our lives and the theatre we made enmeshed and depended on each other (Anna Koós, Szinházi történetek: szobában, kirakatban, English: Theatrical Stories: from Living Room to Storefront, Budapest: Akadémiai, 2009). Like all three Squat plays in Western emigration, the first in New York—Andy Warhol’s Last Love—was collectively created and produced. It played in New York (1978–1979), Rotterdam (1978), Hamburg (The Festival of Nations, 1979), Belgrade (BITEF, 1979), Milan, Brussels, Rome, and Florence (1979), Cologne (Theater der Welt, 1981), and again during The Golden Age of Squat Theatre Festival (New York, 1982).
The three-part performance took place on three “stages,” none of which were stages, strictly speacking. For Part One the performing group and the audience gathered on the second floor, in the living room of Eva and Stephan. Having listened to a radio message from Andromeda, everyone walked down to the storefront. Part Two was a black-and-white film projected onto a cotton curtain hanging in the storefront window, visible from both inside and outside. Part Three used the area inside and the sidewalk outside, and began with Andy Warhol’s arrival from the street chaperoning a short overweight woman: Kathleen, the witch. She proceeded to perform a ritual in the nude then sat down to answer Andy’s pre-recorded questions live (Warhol’s voice was Mark Amitin’s). Meanwhile, three women from Andromeda gathered on the sidewalk. One of them, Ulrike Meinhof’s twelve-year-old reincarnation, entered the stage to interview Andy, eventually re...