Pulling the strings on social consciousness


Bread and Puppet is both an origin statement and an artistic vision.

The Vermont-based troupe dates to early ’60s on New York City’s Lower East Side when German-born sculptor, dancer and baker Peter Schumann and his wife Elka combined socially conscious avant-garde puppet theater with distribution of free sourdough bread.

More than 50 years later, Bread and Puppet is still going strong. This spring, it is touring from Boston to New Orleans, including a stop at White Horse Black Mountain on April 14.

Born in the ferment of the 1960s, Bread and Puppet has always addressed political and social issues in its productions. In its early days Bread and Puppet was associated with a loosely-knit avant-garde movement that included the Living Theater, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Fluxus and Dada-inspired figures like Black Mountain College instructors John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

As time went on, Shumann’s experimental sensibility was informed by older traditions like medieval passion plays, the Bible, fairy tales and oral story-telling. A guiding principle in the group’s existence has been a commitment to operating within its means, including creating homemade puppets, sometimes very large ones, from existing and readily available materials. Over the past half century, Bread and Puppets has evolved into a unique community that involves hundreds of artists, apprentices and volunteers and has influenced theater companies around the globe.

Bread and Puppet’s touring production is entitled “Public Access Center for the Obvious Presents: The Situation,” a new work by Peter Shumann. The puppet play is described by the writer as featuring “dancing horses, an anti-extinction angel, proletariat broom dances, a 100-watt light bulb, a sailing ship of fools, and a swinging brass band, all for the purpose of urging the not-yet ‘upriser’ masses into existence.”