Attila Szabó | Apartment Theatre in Hungary: Neo-Avant-Garde, Postmodern and Hyperrealist

If we look at the avant-garde as a position of opposition to a certain social/political regime or aesthetics we find theatre facing up against political constraints and fossilized aesthetic forms. Yet how theatre reacts to these realities will greatly depend on the given historical period, and methods which look similar on the surface might be informed by very different artistic purposes and world views. This is also the case with a specific theatre form called apartment theatre, which in Hungary had various appearances during the past forty years of theatre history. For various reasons some theatre artists decided to leave the proscenium stages and experiment with new theatre languages in small, intimate spaces, questioning the borderline between theatre and life. Although various forms of ‘immersive’ theatre can be found globally, the specific points in theatre history and the purposes that made theatre makers turn towards these theatre tools in Hungary can be considered very specific in our country.
Hal Foster defines neo-avant-garde as two radical returns in the late 1950s and early 1960s: the readymades of the Duchampian Dada, and the contingent structures of Russian Constructivism:

They both contest the bourgeois principles of autonomous art and expressive artist, the first though the embrace of everyday objects and a pose of aesthetic indifference, the second through the use of quasi-industrial materials, and the transformation of the function of the artist. (..) They both contest the model dominant at the time, the medium-specific formalism developed by Roger Fry and Clive Bell for Post-Impressionalism and its aftermath, and refined by Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried for the New York School and its aftermath. (Foster 1994, 9)

In Foster’s view the main difference between the historical avant-gardes and their neo forms is that while both artistic trends try to undo a set of conventions, the first “focuses on the conventional, the second concentrates on the institutional.” (Foster, 19) In Hungary the historical theatre avant-garde had a very small influence to the theatre output of the early 20th century: these experiments were limited to a handful of artists and they usually did not have the venues and means to present their works to the audiences. Magdolna Jákfalvi concludes:

With this outsider character the avant-garde movements naturally did not even enter the Hungarian tradition of theatre history, since they did not only stand outside the official canon, but they also generated such theatrical creative processes, which, due to the lack of practical-experimental facilities, could only reach a textual, paper-based existence. (Jákfalvi, 2005)

Partly due to this limited canonisation of the Hungarian theatre avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde groups in the 1970’s did not have a solid heritage to refer back to. This is mostly true for spoken theatre, because dance theatre had some grounds in the heritage of the free dance movements by Valéria Dienes and Alice Madzsar in the 20’s and 30’s. As a direct invocation of this heritage, in 1975 Orsolya Drozdik used archive photo materials of these dancers superposing with photos of her own dancing body in her series Individual Mythology and Free Dance in Hungary. In her happenings she also projected these archive images on herself, to “transform herself in that state of freedom, which se so much desired” (Drozdik, 1979). The aesthetically very different theatrical experiments of the historical avant-garde seemed to share a common refusal of naturalist representation:

We need to drive back arts to “objective reality”, but not to a copying naturalism (which is the farthest of all artistic schools from reality), but to the formation of a new, unified body from the objective material (Kassák, 1923).

Similarly, the neo-avant-garde also rejected naturalism, but first and foremost a state required socialist realism, which institutionally mandated a certain form of representation. It did not only do this to comply with the Stalinist aesthetics, but also text and drama-based events were much more easier to control by censorship, then all forms of non-verbal or improvisative events.

In the Hungarian culture of the 70’s and 80’s the subversive power of avant-garde art was naturally stronger than in the Western World, which were the starting point of underground movements. In Hungary, the metaphysical barrenness of official culture, the glaring lack of spiritual values, the dominant style models rooted in classicism and realism, a 19th century system of values informing the official aesthetics formed such a canon, the presence and authority of which automatically excluded all alternative attempts, conversely giving them a value of cultural resistance and overall importance (Havasréti, 131).

Péter Halász and the Apartment Theatre in Dohány street

This is also illustrated by the activity of the best known theatre group of the 1970’s, led by Péter Halász. The company, officially named Kassák Ház Stúdió [Kassák House Studio], performed “apartment theatre” events between 1970-1972 in the private apartment of Halász and his wife, Anna Koós, located in downtown Budapest, in Dohány Street.First they staged performances in the Kassák Klub, in the middle of a residential area consisting of block of flats, sharing the space with folk dance clubs. These performances were heavily building on audience participation, a method little known at the time in Hungary. This improvisational nature of their events led by 1972 to the total banishment of their companies from all public venues of the city. At this point they decided to retreat into private spaces. This is how critic István Nánay remembers these apartment theatre events:

It was impossible to advertise these, and the news went round by word of mouth that at such and such a time something could be expected at 20 Dohány street. Naturally, there too, the political police kept an eye on them and their visitors. Sometimes only the dining-room was used for the performances, and at other times two adjoining rooms, and quite often the whole flat, including Halász’s grandmother’s little room, the kitchen and the bathroom. Indeed, sometimes they extended the playing area to the external corridor. People sat where they could or leant against the walls. Most frequently, conversation would lead almost without transition into the production, after which there could be a long exchange of ideas and a sharing of everyday affairs of family and friends. (…) [A]and players would sit on the floor, the room would be covered in a huge white sheet with slits here and there through which first one then another would put his head, and the sudden appearances, eye contacts and the abstract verse-text spoken in the meantime by the actors created the experience of interdependence and isolation at the same time. The charm and attraction of these ‘happenings’ was that individuals isolated in a society that proclaimed collectivisation could, there in that flat, experience the feeling of interdependence, all the more so as they knew that they were taking part in something forbidden. (Nánay, 2010)

Halلsz and his team also performed outdoor happenings at Lake Balaton, in an abandoned quarry, a deserted little Danube-island and other ‘site-specific’ locations. They half-illegally performed at the Wroc³aw theatre festival, outside of the official programme. Eventually, they were exiled from Hungary in 1976, and concluded their Budapest activity with a staging of The Three Sisters the apartment theatre, featuring the three departing actors, ready to leave. Their future activity is somewhat better known internationally, since their eventually settled in New York, renting a house with a storefront in Midtown Manhattan. Squat Theatre became one of the most influential theatre groups of the New York neo-avant-garde, where the shows performed mostly in front of the large shop window, could be watched both by the audiences inside and the passers-by. Their three performances prepared for this location were also presented on numerous European theatre festivals, with great success, between 1977-1981, receiving three times the Village Voice OBIE Prize. Their cooperation ended in 1985, Halász returned to Hungary after 1989, where he was active until his death in the new theatre scene in Hungary.
Halász’s happenings, which brought a well selected public in the private space of a family, could be interpreted in the framework of LebensKunstWerk, the avant-garde tendency to do away the difference between theatre and life. Yet their performances, the news of which only travelled orally, were neither so much interested in the anatomy of everyday life, nor were they political per se. They were certainly political in the sense of defying institutional aesthetics and resisting censorship. Halász, Koós, and their daughter were actually living in the apartment, but the actions presented in the framework of the live events were highly symbolical and abstract. The sand table, the sheet with the wholes, the Pieta Scene, the half-dressed, half-naked performer – to list a few of the episodes documented – could be more interpreted as arts installations or tableaux vivants, creating (surrealist or Dadaist) spatial ambiances which defy the everyday sensations of reality.
Gabriella Schuller analyzes this performance of the private space in the terms of the temporarily autonomous zone as defined by Hakim Bey. She points out that there are many aspects of Bey’s theory that are fully realized by the Apartment Theatre of Halász and company, like living in a commune, life as a permanent celebration, psychic nomadism etc. However, she also points out an important difference:

Bey separates the tactics of disappearance and resistance. In the states that are based on visibility the temporarily autonomous zones are based on the tactic of disappearance and hiding, Halász and his team, however (maybe because theatre is by definition a community experience) had no intention of hiding from the sight of power, thus we can identify a tactic of opposition in their activity. (Schuller, 2008)

Halász’s Apartment Theatre and the happenings the group presented in the abandoned chapel at Lake Balaton could also be understood in terms of Victor Turner’s liminarity. The private life staged and made public presents a state which is a conscious denial of the everyday life, at least the non-conspicuous life of neatly rationed work and leisure, demanded by the communist regime.

In their performances regularly pop up ritualistic elements, especially in the three-day event, titled King Kong: slicing up of veins, drinking milk and blood, joint love-feast of players and audience (agape), castration and cult of the phallus. Yet these ritualistic elements – similarly to the Western trend of performance art – do not belong to a particular religion (…) Still, for the participants of the Apartment Theatre, this ritual emphasized the feeling of separation from the societal community, especially as it was extremely difficult to gain admission to these events. (Schuller 2008)

This reading certainly confirms Havasréti’s general insight about the ritualistic aspirations of the neo-avant-garde, which he terms as hermetic practices, which also greatly informed the paradox of Halász’s theatre: the simultaneous desire of an elite and secretive community and a need for publicity as a form of protest against the ruling partition of the sensible.

An important part of the hermetic practices, magic for instance – which can also be seen as critical – embodied a mode of symbolic usage, the elements of which operated through language transparency and opacity, on the other hand making sensible the paradox relations of polysemy, also trying to create a language which cannot be mastered by power (Havasréti 2006, 118).

Whenever more mundane events of life were “staged”, presumably these communicative situations were transferred and influenced by the presence of an audience, thus it was more that the everyday life became teatralized than vice-versa.

Imagine that you go hop by one morning to discuss something, and the flat is full of different people. And you quite naturally ask for some tea and bread, talk to the others (…) There was a permanent movement there from morning till morning, day in and day out. Who got tired, went home or just laid down to sleep there. (Donáth 1991, 44)

Schuller also emphasizes that, at least in what regards the content of the happenings, there was nothing directly political about the group’s activity, unlike for instance in the case of Living Theatre in New York. Kassák Ház Stúdió was banned because they deviated from the officially approved script. “Happenings of the time gave unusually large space to spectators for imagination and associations, which was very unusual for the censors, and political ambiguity was only a secondary aspect” (Schuller 2008). Sometimes Halász quite overtly gave voice to his attitude against direct political stance, even if some in the audience would have demanded a more pronounced critique of the status quo.

We did not protest. We thought that with the fact that we were doing what we did freely, without any permit, we stated that the existing regime did not exist. This was the content of our scandal. It would have been outright redundant to step back and cry out: this system is a heap of horseshit (Halász 1991, 8).

A postmodernist interlude: Krétakör and the Apology of the Escapologist

After the 1989 turn of the regime the political constellation changed radically in Hungary. Grassroot theatre initiatives were no longer banned and in the following two decades many small independent theatre companies were formed, mostly working with freelance artists, which tried hard to find their position in a theatre system still dominated by large stable ensembles with their own venue. Despite some important efforts, some on the level of legislation, until today there is still no mutually satisfactory solution found for the quantity and distribution of subsidies given to the independent theatre sector. Both because of the emerging trends of site-specific theatre and the lack of sufficient theatre venues, many small companies started to look for alternative, usually small-size performing venues. While József Ruszt’s Romeo and Juliet in “civilian clothing” was performed especially as an education event for high-school students, it set the tone for the theatrical usage of very small, intimate spaces, and a mise-en-scene which emphasized a more muted theatre language. The internationally known independent company, Krétakör, also experimented with the atmosphere of intimacy, in their 2003 staging of Chekhov’s Seagull, directed by Árpád Schilling, which was staged in the round club hall of Fészek artists’ club. With a meticulous work on the text Krétakör theatrically „retranslated” the Chekhovian lines to a typically 21st century way of talking, and the situations were carefully brought into a modern context without actually modifying the original text. In this, and a few other of their ‘intimate’ performances, Krétakör did not use a very elaborate scenography, not a strong visuality, which otherwise characterized their shows. The original round hall of the club was practically unaltered and the spectators were sitting around on simple chairs in a circle, while the actors played in the small space in the middle of the circle, among the spectators, or just sat down on some of the empty chairs when they had no lines, and watched how the others perform. However, in this ‘barren’ space the small changes in the position of the actors vis-à-vis of each other and the transient groupings between actors and spectators received more significance and made the performance a deep meditation on the concept and content of community, the strategies of inclusion and exclusion, the relationship between old and new art.
In 2008, after a large domestic and international success Krétakör ceased to work as an ensemble, and many of their members joined other theatre companies and projects, disseminating the theatrical ideas they had experimented within Krétakör. The brand Krétakör, however, remained with director and founder Árpád Schiling, who decided to create site-specific projects with ad-hoc artists. The 2003 Seagull gave a taste of a new trend of theatrical thinking which stood out from the earlier big hits of the company (like ‘W’ Worker’s Circus, based on Woyzeck, which Hungarian theatrologists theorized as one of the greatest achievements of the Hungarian postmodern theatre), foreboding a more socially sensitive aesthetics which was attempted in the later projects of Krétakör. Their first large theatre project in the newly branded Krétakör, the Apology of the Escapologist, a ‘multidisciplinary performance’, was staged in March 2009 as a series of events at different locations, focusing on various social and personal issues (retirement, childbirth) yet also theatricalizing a less-theatrical part of Budapest, District IX. Spectators, who had to reserve their (mostly free) seats beforehand on the internet, were taken to different sites of the city, were very different theatrical events were staged: a disused birth clinic, a spa that had seen better days, a club for retired people very far from the city center etc. With some resemblance to the documentary theatre techniques, in many events ‘real life experts’ were used, meaning pregnant women, retired people etc. The second event of the series bore the title Lab Hotel, staged at the newly founded Krétakör Base in an old apartment house. The spectators who visited this house would watch an apartment theatre performance, where different scenes were performed in the different rooms, while the people could move between stations in small groups. While the fiction of the theatrical scenes was not all that powerful, the fiction created by the space itself was truly haunting. The typical late 19th century, early 20th century Monarchy style apartment had undergone a radical reconstruction, where the real space, all too familiar to the inhabitants of Budapest, was transformed into a nightmarish space of surreal proportions. One of the rooms had an extremely low ceiling, giving a very similar sensation to the set used in the film Being John Malkovich, another room was filled with sand, there were short acts performed in the bathroom converted into a dirty shower room, somewhat referencing the horror classic Psycho, while the main living room was joined with the adjacent room with a large hole in the wall, forming a miniature stage with proscenium lights and red velvet curtains. This location was not only referencing traditional, Guckkasten form of spectatorship, and its prolonged domination of the Central European theatre offer, but more strongly the dreamlike surrealist stage of David Lynch. Film references might not be incidental in the art of the new Krétakör, who decided to use film and photography quite actively in their new projects. Therefore the ‘magically’ converted apartment of the Lab Hotel could be interpreted as a postmodern pastiche of cultural references and objectified spaces of film (thriller) dramaturgy, where the everydayness of the private living space is surrealistically turned inside-out showing the (potential) unnaturalness of our experiences of natural spaces and everyday life. Thus the apartment theatre sequence of the Apology could also be interpreted as a recapitulation of Krétakör’s postmodern theatre achievements, realized to a large extent in the realm of scenography, placed into a line of theatrical events which could no longer be grasped with the toolkit of postmodernism and would rather represent a (more-or-less successful) attempt at the upcoming social (and documentary) theatre trends.

Old Apartments, New Interests: Surprise Party by Péter Kárpáti and the recent return of the apartment theatre as an attempt towards hyperrealism

The form of the Apartment Theatre was recycled in 2007 with Szörprájzparty (Surprise Party) written by Péter Kárpáti, in the staging of HoppArt independent theatre company. HoppArt was founded by the fresh graduate actors of the Theatre Academy in Budapest, who decided to stay together after graduation and put on performances in a unique theatre language, which mixes prose with singing and playing different instruments. The performance was staged in a ‘secret apartment’ in downtown Budapest, the audience met at Astoria square, originally unaware of where they will be taken. Reviewer György Karsai already places the performance in the context the previous apartment theatre predecessors. According to the fiction of the performance, the audience is invited to the a surprize party to this flat, being guided there by the manager of the company who had been waiting for the audience at Astoria square.

One may justly wonder what was our role, as spectators? According to the role assigned to us at the beginning of the evening we would be the guests at the birthday party (although people usually not inviting guests to such events), yet the ‘hosts’ – quite understandably, stemming from the genre of the story – decide not to take notice of us. So we are either regular, traditional theatre spectators or nervous eavesdroppers truly present at the intimate scenes, but nonetheless we are having great fun. We sit on the side of the guests’ bed, we fill in each nook and cranny of the house, we watch the fights, the making love, the spats, the eating and drinking (Karsai 2009).

It was quite unexpected to see playwright Péter Kárpáti, off all people, come out with such an apartment theatre production. Previously he was known as a playwright with a very unique language, author of plays of a very special poetic visuality and operating a private mythology built on folk elements belonging to different ethnic communities. Previously he also used to work as a resident author at the city theatre of Tatabánya, but none of his texts were truly explored to their fullest potential on the Hungarian stages. This is how Kárpáti explains his turn toward the intimate stage and his shift from playwriting to directing of a heavily improvisation-based event.

I definitely wanted to write a play which goes very close to the real life of the actors playing in it, to their way of talking. From this, it is much easier to get to improvisation. What we are doing now consists of about 90% improvisation. As an author, I am intrigued by the possibility of starting a theatre situation without having it written word-for-word beforehand. Rather just throw up the ball and see what it can come of it, discuss a lot and thread on based on that. (…) The language here is important in a different sense: it should be as simple, as mundane, as improvisative as possible. A text which is driven not by its language, nor its intellectuality, but rather by the phantasy it ignites. (Kárpáti 2009).

Reviewers seem to agree that Kárpáti was successful in his attempt of writing a play which gives the impression of being unwritten. Tamás Koltai writes: ‘these short-circuited dialogues, which revolve around themselves leading nowhere, dialogues filled – so to say – with emptiness, are quite masterfully written by Kárpáti. These are the best parts of the play.’ (Koltai 2009). Yet he reproaches the performance of not giving a plausible explanation for the presence of us, spectators, celebrating ‘a random guy called Zsolti’, in the second part of the performance, when the event actually turns into a party. He adds that only the conscious intervention of a masterful director could make the parts work within the play when one of the actors (Gergely Bánki) tries to activate the spectators into producing themselves for the great surprise of Zsolti. (Koltai 2009) It is somewhat paradoxical to demand a director’s visible presence for a show which tries to radically do away with all the clichés and predictable elements of traditional theatre. The aim of this theatre is rather to experiment with a radical mimesis of reality, which looks as realistic and as artistically unprocessed as possible. Truth be told, the Krétakör’s Seagull, which was operating along similar aesthetic lines, also managed to reach this level of performative strength due to an unusually lengthy and meticulous rehearsal process with the contribution of director Árpád Schilling. The end result here too was a feeling of raw, unmediated naturalism of conversation, achieved, however, through long elaboration in the rehearsal process.
It is to be considered, however, if cancelling the passive receptive position of the spectator and radically subverting the positions of performer-spectator has truly been a conscious attempt of all types of apartment theatre. In the 70’s, just by being present on such a (forbidden) event gave spectators a sense of conspiracy, and the performance contributed to the formation of a dissident community. However, a distinction between the performers (Halász and his closest friends and family) was usually preserved, and the actions were designed and performed by the team of actors, while the spectators (the guests) were mostly only watching. What Surprize Party also claims to attempt, at least in the second part of the show, is to undo the traditional positions in the auditorium, even though some of the spectators are reluctant or outright unwilling to leave their ‘passive’ roles.

In a flat there is the possibility for an actor to step on the thin borderline between theatre and a real party. We could have the chance to not only pretend that this was a surprize party but to actually create the atmosphere of a party there. The setup of a real surprize party is very similar to this: people who only barely know each other would be sitting next to each other in an similarly awkward way, acting as insecure as in our show. This shift from a regular narrative to a party is really hard to put on stage. Let’s say we managed to do it twice in ten attempts (Kárpáti 2009, 21).

What Kárpáti’s statement underlines here is that the activisation of the audience was not really needed to focus the attention from the actors to any of the individual spectators, and let them, for instance, tell their own stories or experiences, but rather to create a general atmosphere of leisure and focus on the type of community represented by these apartment parties. It is quite obvious, however, that the community represented in this mise-en-scene was no longer tied by the bonds that made the spectators a community of accomplices in the times of the communist dictatorship. Conversely, however, we can say that Surprize Party did find it important to meditate on the content and composition of the community coming to life, no matter for what a short time, between the members of this audience. The same thing cannot be told of Krétakör’s Lab Hotel, which built more on a spectatorship that foregrounded individual experiences of the spaces rather than the reflection of how this particular audience worked together as a community. Again, a rather cinema-like viewing position was encouraged in the Krétakör’s action where one was supposed to face his/her own nightmares and fears, incidentally with a few more people in the room doing the same.

Most of us are interested in seeing how other people lived: (…) This natural human curiosity could be one of the reasons why the history of the apartment theatre is having newer and newer chapters written. On the other hand, the performance taking place in the intimate space, in bodily closeness to the spectator offers the gift intensive presence to the viewer (Turbuly 2009).

In all three instances of apartment theatre we could see a certain exclusivity of the audience, being defined as an elite or “chosen” community. However, the content of exclusivity lies on a different basis for each of the three. While for Péter Halász’s Apartment Theatre people were invited personally, for Surprise Party one could reserve a seat through the phone or the internet just like for any other show in the city. Here it was the limited availability of seats that defined the exclusive nature of the community. Even if the tickets were really inexpensive, the performance entered the usual regime of theatre marketing in Hungary rather than being a half-public event for a group of fellow-minded maverick community, as in the case of Halász’s events. The Krétakör performance chose yet another path: the different performances pertaining to the Apology could only be watched as a sequence: one had to see the first part to be invited to the second, and had to see the second one to be invited to the third, and so on. Emails were sent out by the production team and a seat had to be secured for the next event through email, this is also how spectators knew where and when the next episode would take part. All details of the project were otherwise kept secret, and even spectators were asked not to divulge the exact events to their friends who would like to see the next part. ‘Bring a bathing suit and towel’ was the only instruction given to the audiences of the sequence in the public bath. In this project, which took place in the period before the large social media boom in Hungary, we could already see some attempts at defining elite communities through the internet: as the entrance tax for participating in a performance was a previous participation, a community was formed which was only organized (not entirely ‘spontaneously’) through online means.
While Surprise Party was actually primarily focused on the personal dimension, investigating the anatomy of an amorous relationship, with Acts of the Pitbull (2011) Kárpáti moved on towards a higher emphasis of the societal level: even if he preserved the intimacy of the apartment theatre space (although this was recreated through delimiting a small corner from an otherwise large hall), this show mixed the muted and quasi-improvisative acting of the apartment theatre with the playwright’s affinity towards the large myths of humanity, here referencing mostly the Quoran. While in Surprise Party the intricacies of a relationship were the only challenges for the couple, here the everyday life of the couple is suddenly invaded by unexplainable mythical elements, a travelling prophet, foretelling the future and other superhuman events which create a theatrical atmosphere with a strong narrative tension and angst.
As a most recent development in the history of the apartment theatre, the newly founded company Dollár Papa Gyermekei, an initiative by actors Emőke Kiss-Végh and Tamás Ördög introduce a radically new theatre quality, again by a possibly even more exaggerated stripping of the mise-en-scene of its theatricality. Their ice-cold, bare-bone theatre, performed in completely sterile uniformly lit small spaces, builds on a radical re-writing of Ibsen and Strindberg. “They write their own adaptation of the plays, filling the dialogues with a contemporary content and vision, making the audience believe that these dialogues are actually taking place here and there, in front of our eyes” – writes theatre critic Noémi Herczog, not failing to connect their achievements to Krétakör’s Seagull (Herczog 2015, 26). Even more so, because the two founders of the company often invite ex Krétakör members to act as guest performers (like Annamária Láng, Sándor Terhes, Lilla Sárosdi). Their Family Trilogy is loosely based on Ibsen’s Nora, Little Eyolf and Stindberg’s The Pelican, presents the psycho-pathology of a dysfunctional family with extreme sharpness, zooming in on the most contemporary social-psychological challenges of our times. Again, the actors (only four of them altogether) step on ‘stage’ from among the spectators, who are rarely more than thirty people, meticulously placed in a strict rectangle. This most intimate space allows the different registers of whisper to be clearly audible, and the constant shifts between apparent detachment and casualness of the conversation to outbursts of the most poisonous cynicism create an almost insupportable theatre tension and a constant feeling of unease, deliberately placing the audience in a position to wonder why they should be witnessing such intimate and cruel exchanges. And wonder if they, by just silently watching, do not also become accomplices to the events. These new performances by Dollár Papa Gyermekei seem to confirm the validity for the Hungarian stage of Thomas Ostermeier’s remark for the Hungarian stage, about finding Ibsen more topical for our times than other playwrights, even Chekhov, as certain macro-societal processes have intensified lately (for instance how money and the lack of it drive our lives), severely poisoning our intimate spaces.

Theatre artists in Hungary have turned towards the theatre form of the apartment theatre as a gesture of opposition to a dominant regime: either political or aesthetic. In all three historical periods presented here it also cannot be ignored that the turn towards the more intimate spaces was equally an artistic choice and an infrastructural necessity. But while the apartment theatre of the neo-avant-garde was both escaping political censorship and the official requirements of the aesthetics of socialist realism, Krétakör and the independent theatres formed after 1989 did not have this political constraint. However, it is true, that these companies mostly did not have the possibility to perform in classical proscenium theatres, but they also consciously decided to override the traditional form of spectatorship which put a radical distance between spectators and actors. Their answers were either a total immersion of the spectator into a magical and yet unseen space, or the placement of the theatre action so close to the audience that the acting style could be radically renewed, gestures refined and many possibilities devised for a higher awareness of spectators of the practices of the actors or their own position to the events staged and to the other viewers.
Although the tools seem very similar at first sight between the neo-avant-garde and contemporary hyperrealist approaches to apartment theatre, the differences are quite fundamental. While the neo-avant-garde believed in a direct activation of the audience (either political or creative), the 21st century approaches seem to accept the receptive position of the audience and rather use direct approach techniques to raise awareness to the variety of spectatorial positions available. While the political content of the neo-avant-garde was the action, for the contemporary artists theatre should mostly be the space for political reflection. Another important difference is that while the avant-garde approaches radically refused all mimesis of reality, the contemporary attempts accept it and try to fully exploit the possibilities of mimesis, acknowledging, at the same time, that this is always a complicated and problematic process, never entirely natural. While the neo-avant-garde was more interested in the enigmatic and the esoteric, the new approaches usually tend to be more objectivistic, refusing all sorts of abstract symbolism, conversely, showing a deep interest in the psychology of the individual and the society. And, finally, the universalism of the neo-avant-garde is substituted with a heightened local interest, a turn towards the here-and-now, the specific problems and language of small communities. Thus the neo-avant-garde theatre tradition, at least in the small genre of the immersive and apartment theatre, lives on more as a special framework of theatrical interaction rather than its original form than aesthetic content.


Bey, Hakim (1991) The Temporary Autonomous Zone,, Autonomedia,

Donáth Péter (1991) A másság, Színház 1991/október-november 42-45. (az interjút Bérczes László készítette)

Drozdik Orsolya (1979) Individuális Mitológia, Manifesztَ, private collection of Orsolya Drozdik
Foster, Hal (1994) What’s Neo about the Neo-Avant-Garde? October . 70, The Duchamp Effect (Autumn, 1994), pp. 5-32 Published by: The MIT Press,

Halász, Péter (1991) Nem érdekel, hogy mi lesz holnap, Színház, 1991/október-november, 96.

Herczog Noémi (2015), Emُke és Tamلs szيnhلza – kortلrs hipervalَsلgossلg, Színház, 2015/10.

Havasréti Jَzsef (2006) Alternatív regiszterek: a kulturális ellenállás formái a magyar neoavantgárdban, Budapest, Typotex.

Jلkfalvi Magdolna (2005), Szيnhلzi Kezdeményezések a struktْrلn kيvül. A magyar avantgلrd szيnhلz tِrténete, Magyar Színháztörténet, 1920-1949, Magyar Kِnyvklub, Budapest,

Kárpáti Péter interviewed by István Sándor L., Színházírás, Ellenfény, 2010/7. 21.

Karsai György (2009), Kérdezd a nyulat, Színház, 2009.04.

Kassلk Lajos (1923), Konstrukciَtَl a kompozيciَig. Ma, 1923/9–10.

Koltai Tamás (2009), Kéglibe zárt Don Juan, Élet és Irodalom, 2009.09.18, 31.

Nánay István (2010), Theatres and Spaces, Occupying Spaces, Experimental Theatre in Central Europe, 1950-2010, TACE, Ljubljana

Schuller Gabriella (2008), Színház, polisz, politika: a Dohány utcai lakásszínház, Balkon, 2008/2

Turbuly Lilla (2009), Szakítópróba, Critikai Lapok, 9/2009, 17.

Leave a Reply