Stephan Balint, Influential Hungarian Playwright, Actor, Director and Poet, Is Dead at 64
Stephan Balint, an award-winning playwright, poet, actor and co-founder of the seminal New York avant-garde theater group Squat Theater, died on October 11 in Budapest, Hungary. He was 64 years old.
The cause was pneumonia following a long illness, confirmed his daughter Eszter Balint.
The son of noted European School artist Endre Balint, Mr. Balint, born in 1943, was a published poet before he became a major cultural figure of the underground scene in Budapest in the early 1970's. He was a founding member of a theater group, later known as Squat Theater, who performed their plays in an apartment after the authorities of the communist regime denied the group permission for public appearances. These mostly unannounced performances, seeking to invent a new kind of theater, served as a core for, and attracted the attention of much of the artistic youth of Budapest at the time.
In 1976 along with the other members and co-founders of the collective, Balint emigrated from Hungary. After brief stays in Paris and Rotterdam, and appearances at prestigious theater festivals throughout Europe, the group relocated to New York City during the summer of 1977, and settled in the legendary Chelsea Hotel before making its home in a storefront building on West 23rd Street. This is where Squat Theater made its reputation as one of the primary cultural centers of the New York performance and music scene through the late 70's and early 80's. Among the plays Balint co-wrote, co-directed, and performed in were Pig! Child! Fire!, Andy Warhol's Last Love, and Mr. Dead & Mr's Free, winner of the Best New American Play Obie award in 1981. Squat's productions garnered the attention of theater critics and audiences worldwide (Peter Sellars, Susan Sontag, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Jonathan Demme were among the fans who considered the group's work influential) earning praise for their visual inventiveness, pointed humor and for their uncompromosing vision, often blurring the lines between reality and fiction. During one performance of Pig! Child! Fire!, Balint, in full view of the audience, found himself handcuffed by the NYPD during a mock duel taking place on W.23rd Street, which served as the backdrop to several of the storefront plays.
During the early 80's, Squat Theater also functioned as an underground movie theater, as well as a venue for much of the groundbreaking jazz, no-wave, and funk music of the era, serving as kind of home to John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, Sun Ra, DNA, James Chance and Defunkt, among others,.
Following the departure of some of the original members, Squat left its storefront home and continued to perform under the leadership of Mr. Balint, who wrote and directed Dreamland Burns, presented at The Kitchen in New York and at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. (1986) and L-Train to Eldorado, which premiered at BAM's Next Wave Festival (1987.) Balint also wrote and appeared in Hunter (1989), a film by renowned photographer Robert Frank. Balint's other film appearances include The Golden Boat (1990) directed by Raoul Ruiz and Histoires d"Ameriques by Chantal Akerman (1988.)
In the early 1990's, Balint returned to Budapest, where he continued to work as a theater director and writer up until the time of his illness, in 2002. His most recent work, a book of poems in collaboration with visual artist Gabor Rosko, was published in 2005.
Balint is survived by his son Gaspar Balint of Budapest, Hungary, and his daughter Eszter Balint and grandson August Balint DuClos of New York.
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