The North East Kingdom of Vermont’s northern-most region nestles 40 years of imbedded political protest and “hippie” refuges. The lush Green Mountain area is the arena of the Bread and Puppet Theater, Museum and puppetry apprentice program. On a sprawling several acre ramble of barns, warehouse, and dormitories, the troupe is composed of performers, artists, craftsmen and educators. The 1960s opened the theater under the guidance of Peter Schumann of New York, moved to Vermont in 1974, and now travels the country to stages and street fairs for performances. The 60’s instilled a direction of the theater toward protests against war, poverty and injustice. These tenants remain today in the puppetry and dance of the theater. The stark puppets are the creation of Schumann’s sculpted clay models, using simple materials like cardboard, wood saplings and rags, to construct figures of immense size. Peter has drawn on a nibble organization to bring all together.
Enormous Papier–mâché heads, flowing gowns, and stilted performers
I remember this Vermont region from many years ago and traveled there on a recent visit to a nearby inn. The chance encounter with Bread and Puppet on a two lane country road was mystical. It transported me back to a time of campus protesting and civil rights marches. Vermont country life evokes a freedom from suppression and this was the continuation of that era. The weathered hay barn museum was open to visit and a few student volunteers sat near a dorm. In the dim light of late afternoon, shafts of sun filtered in through narrow beams and hit the Papier-mâché collages and puppet displays in odd angles. The barn air was heavy and the wooden structure shadows blurred the real from the puppetry. Were human faces behind the masks or were the masks human?
The theater’s name evolved in theory from the need for bread for life as equal to dissent from injustice. In the summer months, work goes on in the Museum’s front yard, where the Quebec-style clay oven bakes famous sourdough rye bread. Tours are given in the museum and volunteers are housed to learn the craft. Today, the theater has supported performances at the Occupy Wall Street movements in Harrisburg, PA., New York, and Boston. Festivals and circus events fill in the calendar into fall. The peacefulness of the hayfield and cornfields of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, USA against the edginess of the political mission of the Bread and Puppet, makes for a true destination. Bed and Breakfast Inns and camping abound in the region.
As they announce, the museum is open June 1 to November 1, daily 10 am to 6:00 pm. There is a museum tour every Sunday at 1:00 pm during July and August. During the cold months, it is officially closed, but may be opened by appointment or chance. Admission is free. http://breadandpuppet.org/museum