Since 1963, Bread and Puppet has been involved in truth-telling as art. From its origins in New York City to its expansive farm home in Glover, Vermont, Bread and Puppet Theater has performed tirelessly and with a purpose for the the enjoyment and self-awareness of its devotees.
I visited friends in Vermont this weekend and we all made te trip for the performances. They run through the end of August and consist of two parts. The first is a raucous ringed political circus that includes music (a mix of klezmer, gypsy, new Orleans jazz, and polka – whatever works – and it all does), jugglers, stilt walkers, masked mimes, singers, and dancers. And its non-stop for about an hour or so. Right from the beginning, I turned to my friend and likened it to an old copy of Mad Magazine where there are so many things going on at once, your head spins. As one skit exited right (or left) and another one came on, there were still things going on from the “completed” skit.
The genius behind the whole extravaganza is Peter Schumann, at 70, a tireless sculptor, painter, musician, poet and playwright. Did I mention stilt walker? To see this man on those stilts (they must by 11 feet high – maybe more), dancing around effortlessly, is breathtaking. The grace of it was mesmerizing.
I had only a vague memory of Bread and Puppet from its New York days, but one look at the masked figures, brought it all back home. These images are iconic, and have appeared at most important protests and rallies since the sixties. When you see these masks, you’ll remember them.
After the circus (this years edition is called “The Decapitalization Circus”), there is a much more mellow, moving, and transcendant “pageant”, (this year’s edition is “The Nothing-is-Not-Ready Pageant”). A sort of morality play with puppetry, speechifying, and music against a panoramic backdrop, the farms meadow. Where the circus was a family event, with much laughter, the pageant is quieter, though most kids seemed to enjoy this as well. It’s stunningly beautiful and reflective, and I suspect it will stay with me for awhile.
It’s all free. Donations are requested, and gladly given. Never had I wanted to donate more than after this performance. The theater is totally self-supporting, taking no government grants – not that they would be offered. This is old-time street theater, and the whole experience had a peaceful vibe. As you leave though, you realize you’re leaving a world behind, and entering another. If you go, try to keep a piece of the Bread and Puppet world with you as you go about your “business”.
Actually, you can take a piece with you, in the form of bread, which is baked right in the field. All are welcome to queue up after the pageant for some freshly baked manna, as all is well as Mother Earth enfolds all her children.