Bread & Puppet

North America, United States, Vermont, Glover
Art discipline: Large Outdoor Spectacles, Puppetry
Participated in ICAF in: 2014

In October 1963, Schumann and his friends Bruno Eckardt and Bob Ernstthal founded the Bread & Puppet Theatre at 148, Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of New York. Frenchman Christian Dupavillion explained that the American Bob Ernstthal had met Schumann when he was travelling around New England in a jeep and trailer performing puppet shows. Ernstthal decided to travel along with Schumann. Bruno Eckardt, a German painter who had already worked with Schumann in Munich, and visited him in America, started hanging out with them too. That’s the way things went back in the early 1960s, when many young middle-class people went looking for an alternative to capitalism and their parents’ structured, bourgeois, risk-free existence.

Working in their house on Delancey Street this young arts collective worked with local children to make thousands of masks and puppets. They came in all shapes and sizes, from small marionettes and hand-and-stick puppets, to giant ten-foot puppets based on German and Flemish Carnival traditions – these would later become Bread & Puppet’s trademark. The techniques used by Schumann and his companions were simple, wrote Dupavillion: ‘the basic material was newspaper, or wrapping paper which is stronger, cut into strips, soaked in glue and applied to the clay mold’. At the end of each performance, the puppeteers always handed out home-baked bread to the audience because they saw theatre as a basic human need. This tradition of combining food and art is perpetuated to this day by Bread & Puppet, and is reflected for comparable reasons in many contemporary community arts combinations of art and food. 

In contrast to many other radical theatre groups of this era, Schumann’s collective avoided the use of spoken language and concentrated on visual design, music and choreography. In 1983, Peter Schumann said in an interview that while he had indeed lost faith in spoken language, partly in response to the idle promises of politicians, his decision to use non-verbal language in his work was primarily an artistic one: ‘I am a picture maker. In a picture you grasp something in a different way than in words. In a picture you grasp an idea in one instantaneous image. With words you grasp it through logic, through reason, and it’s just a different process in the mind.’

Over the years Schuman has remained true to his 'word' and has continued to create stunning performances and profound connections with the rural community of Glover, Vermont. Today in 2013, the Bread & Puppet theatre has been inspiring community arts all over the world for fifty years. ICAF-6 is therefore extremely proud to present Bread & Puppet's latest work: the cryptically titled Exultation Manufacture with Crucifixion of Oppositionist. It is a mesmerizing, symbolic production with giant puppets and stunning live music about the fragile relation between man and nature.