Bread & Puppet’s 50th anniversary performance at the BCA

From Bread & Puppet’s 2008 "The Divine Reality Comedy"

Vermont's Bread & Puppet theater company has united some unlikely forces over the years -- among them, puppetry, protest, farming ... and Manhattan's seasoned theatergoers.

In a couple of weeks, the avant-garde company will bring its latest project to Boston, along with a show that the company created back in the ‘60s, offering a unique chance for audiences to see how the company has evolved -- and what issues, in their opinion, society has yet to resolve -- over the last 50 years.

One of the new works Bread & Puppet is set to perform, The Possibilitarians, draws inspiration from the "diggers" of 17th-century England. At the time, rising food prices sparked a desire to grow crops as a community on land taken over by the government. The diggers dedicated themselves to "reclaiming and occupying commonly held land," as theater historian and former Bread & Puppet member John Bell put it.

Bell is a professor at Boston College and still helps the company out when they come to town to perform at the Boston Center for the Arts. He's not the only one. Bread & Puppet has developed a community theater method, allowing them to rely on volunteers from the community to help operate their puppets.

"They're coming to Boston with about a dozen people, but the show will be performed by about 50. This allows Bread & Puppet to work on the scale of a giant opera or a Broadway show," Bell said.

Unlike giant operas and Broadway shows, though, one of Bread & Puppet's core values as a company is the "Cheap Art" mentality. The company moved out of Manhattan in 1974 and is now based at a farm in Vermont. They make all of their puppets from natural and found materials under the artistic leadership of founder Peter Schumann, and one of the barns on the property serves as a museum of retired puppets.

This year, some of those old puppets will be resurrected. As part of their anniversary performance, Bread & Puppet will recreate Dead Man Rises. They first performed the piece at Columbia University in 1968, when students there occupied their campus to protest the war in Vietnam. Bell feels that the piece, performed along with The Possibilitarians, still has strong reverberations today.

"You can think of the political history of the Occupy movement and the way it thinks about public space," Bell said.

Bell said the puppets, which range in size from 40 feet tall to life-sized people, create a visual landscape that actors cannot create alone. Puppets may represent concepts, such as "terror" or "love." They may also represent institutions, such as the government. And playing with the scale of the puppets, Bell said, allows the production to explore power dynamics.

"The way Bread & Puppet deals with this subject, it's an interesting spectacle about a political issue and a way of looking at life," he said.

The Possibilitarians and Dead Man Rises will run at the Boston Center for the Arts from Jan. 24 to Jan. 27. A family-friendly version of the production, The Circus of the Possibilitarians, will run as a weekend matinee during the company's stint in Boston. The Possibilitarians and Dead Man Rises are recommended for children 12 and older.

The company will also present a visual art installation at the BCA's Mills Gallery, with an opening reception on Jan. 21 that will feature musical performances and a talk with Bread & Puppet founder Peter Schumann. The visual art exhibit will run from Jan. 21 to Jan. 27.

And of course, Schumann's signature sourdough rye bread will be available at each performance.

For more detailed information on performance dates and times, please visit the BCA's website.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Phlog Archives