Clayton’s Corner: The Radical Bread and Puppet Theater [PHOTOS]

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 at 5:19 am by
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City Lore, founded in 1986, an organization that specializing in the documenting, collecting information, presenting talks, and having art shows related to folk lore. Last month, City Lore, an organization specializing in documenting, presenting talks, and hosting art shows related to folk lore, presented an event featuring Peter Schumann, founder of the radical Bread and Puppet Theater.

Peter Schumann, a German/Polish immigrant born in 1934, started the Bread and Puppet Theater on the Lower East Side three decades later. Growing up in Germany during the Depression and World War II, food was scarce. A heavy dark sourdough rye bread was a main food staple. (Rye grows well in poor soil and is a hardy grain that survives most climes.) Peter became a sculptor with an interest in theater, and later moved to America in 1961.

He was somewhat disappointed in the static nature of the art form, which, eventually, lead to large puppets, or moveable sculpture. The sculptures were made of paper mache, found and donated materials. The human-controlled puppets are hollow inside and fit over a person and can be as tall as 20 feet.

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Peter Schumann, Photo: Clayton Patterson

A part of Peter’s philosophy is connecting puppet dancer, acting, words, sculpture, fulfilling the sensations of the outer body and eating bread, which was meant for the stomach; the sum connects the physical whole being into one. They’d give out the heavy rye bread at their shows. Ergo, the Bread and Puppet theater.

Most of the shows are meant to be performed outside, whether on the city streets or in the country air. Much like their friends the Living Theater, the idea was to incorporate the audience, especially the children, into the performance. There is often a political message in the performances, like a connection to the problems facing the poor, the working-class. Some of their largest performances happened when Americans were protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

These days, the company survives by selling B&P Press posters, publications, touring, the well crafted and practiced company pieces, adding in open free street pieces. The B&P Theater company tours nationally and internationally, and is the oldest, self-supporting, nonprofit theater companies, in America.

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Molly Garfinkel and Peter Schumann

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