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December 1, 2021

The Bread and Puppet Theater

Peter and Elka Schumann began The Bread & Puppet Theater in 1962–1963 in New York City. It was active during the Vietnam War in anti-war protests, primarily in New York City, prompting Time reviewer T.E. Kalem to remark in 1971, “This virtual dumb show is as contemporary as tomorrow’s bombing raid.”

Many people remember it as central to the political spectacle of the time, as its enormous puppets (often ten to fifteen feet tall) were a fixture of many demonstrations. A Sicilian puppet show had inspired Schumann, and TB&PT inspired other groups across the continent, including Gary Botting’s Edmonton-based People & Puppets Incorporated, which in the early 1970s also used effigies yards-high to depict political themes and social commentary in radical street theatre.

In 1970 the Theater moved to Vermont, first to Goddard College in Plainfield, and then to a farm in Glover where it remains. The farm is home to a cow, several pigs, chickens, and puppeteers, as well as indoor and outdoor performance spaces, a printshop, store, and large museum showcasing over four decades of the company’s work. TB&PT has received National Endowment for the Arts grants, awards from the Puppeteers of America, and other organizations.

Until 1998, Bread & Puppet hosted its annual Pageant and Circus (in full, Our Domestic Resurrection Circus), in and around a natural amphitheater on its Glover grounds. In the 1990s, the festival began drawing crowds of tens of thousands, who camped on nearby farmers’ land during the annual, summer weekend of the pageant. The event became unmanageable, and concerned itself less with the theater’s performance.

In 1998, a man was killed by accident in a fight while camping overnight for the festival, forcing director Peter Schumann to cancel the festival. Since then, the theater offers smaller weekend performances all summer, and traveled around New York and New England, with occasional tours around the U.S. and abroad. The theater runs a program where apprentices help produce and act in performances. In New York City, Bread & Puppet performs at Theater for the New City during the holiday season each year.


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