Sociology Professor Discusses Avant-Garde Theater at CUNY Grad Center

Associate Professor Judy Halasz (Sociology Department and Film and Video Studies Minor Program) participated in a panel discussion and video screening at the City University of New York Graduate Center on December 2nd on the legacy of the Obie award-winning avant-garde theatre collective the Squat Theatre, based in Budapest in the 60s-70s and downtown New York City in the 70s-80s. The discussion addressed the unintended consequences of the distinct, yet equally challenging social, cultural, political, and economic conditions in the East and West for the creative world. Both settings fostered Squat’s significant theatrical innovations, including the redefinition of what constitutes performance space, the reformulation of the role of audience, and the merger of multimedia and live performance, enabling the Squat to attract a vibrant, broad-based artistic community.  The Squat’s influence transcended the theater world, inspiring Fluxus artists, Neo-Expressionist painter Jean Michel Basquiat, graffiti artist and hip hop musician Rammellzee, No Wave bands DNA and the Lounge Lizards, big bands Kid Creole and the Coconuts and the Sun Ra Arkestra, indie filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Vincent Gallo, Jonathan Demme, and Shirley Clarke, and Andy Warhol Superstar Viva, among others.  In 1985, the Squat was evicted from their Chelsea storefront theater.  Emblematic of the socio-cultural and political economic shifts ushered in by the New Economy, their former four-story artistic and domestic home was promptly demolished and replaced with a cinema multiplex designed to show Hollywood blockbusters.  Like many other creative collectives, the group broke up in the ensuing years as bohemian life became increasingly untenable in New York City.  The talk referenced research from Dr. Halasz’ forthcoming book The Bohemian Ethos (Routledge, 2014).  The event was blogged by the New York Times and the audience included avant-garde theatre legend Judith Malina of the Living Theater.

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