listen

Peter Schumann is born in Silesia, Poland. His mother baked rye grain she had saved into hard, long lasting sourdough loaves with garlic aioli.
  • 1930
  • 1940
  • 1950
  • 1960
  • 1970
  • 1980
  • 1990
  • 2000
  • 2010
  • 2017
1939
World War II Starts


1945
Atomic bombings
of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki

1945
World War
II Ends

1955
Vietnam War
Starts

1975
Vietnam War
Ends


1960
Lunch counter sit ins begin
in South (beginning of the
Civil Rights Movement)


1963
Kennedy Assassinated


1963
Martin Luther King speech
I Have a Dream


1964
U.S. Destroyer allegedly
attacked in Gulf of Tonkin
on the coast of Vietnam


1965
Massive escalation of U.S. military effort, combined with nightly TV coverage of war and opposition of liberal news media


1966
Anti war demonstrations become wide spread. Race riots in many major cities


1966
the New York Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee coordinated anti-war parades which involved thousands for and against the war


1968
MLK and RFK assassinated


1968
Columbia protests erupt over the spring after students discover financial links between the University and the Vietnam War


1969
U.S. - Vietnam peace talks
- My Lai massacre
- 400,000 people attend Woodstock


1970
- Beatles Break Up
- Palestinian Group Hijacks Five Planes
- Kent State Shootings

1971
Lt. Calley convicted of murdering 22 unarmed Vietnamese

1971
Operation Lam Son 719 - the United States invade Laos

1971
Lt. Calley is pardoned, because of the bias of pre-trial publicity

1973
- Roe vs Wade Legalizes Abortion in the U.S.
- U.S. Pulls Out of Vietnam

1974
U.S. President Nixon resigns

1981
- Assassination Attempt on the Pope
- Assassination Attempt on U.S. President Reagan

1982
- Vietnam War Memorial Opened in Washington, DC

1992
- Official End of the Cold War

1994
- Nelson Mandela Elected President of South Africa

1998
- India and Pakistan Test Nuclear Weapons
- U.S. President Clinton Impeached

2001
- September 11th attacks

2006
- Boston University starts construction of Albany Street biolab to house world's most deadliest germs

2016
- Trump is elected president

2010
- A 7.0-magnitude earthquake occurs in Haiti

2017
- The Women's March is held as a worldwide protest to advocate legislation and policies regarding human and women's rights

1987
- Heroin, ecstasy, and crystal meth become extremely popular and frequent drugs

wait

before you begin please resize your browser so the x's allign
Schumann played with and befriended a family of puppeteers in Silesia, called the Jacobs who put on puppet shows when he was a child. They gave Schumann puppet gifts and taught workshops for him. He contributed to Schumann’s lasting conception of himself as really a wandering folk artists, and of this puppetry as a popular art.
1956-1960. Schumann starts out, in Germany, as an artist in the humble medium of paper mache, bent on proving its adequacy, given artisanally care, ingenuity and improvement, for making beautiful objects: a vindication of spirit over matter. He uses the lost plaster cast technique, special paper, special glue. The objects themselves don’t stand for anything much. Their use in performance is incidental.

He creates dance performances using material and free movement with a friend of his.
Peter playing the violin in his 1962 performance, Totentanz at the Judson Church in New York.

1961
Schumann decided to go to America. By the spring of ’61, following a break-up of his company engineered or finalized, deliberately or not, by him, a way of starting out on a new approach to his work that was to prove a pattern in his life; Schumann, a drop-out from art school, with limited formal training and limited skills in the two disparate art forms tempting him, a failure, really, in both of them, unsuccessful and unrecognized, his redemptive ideal stattered, and the ambition relating to them surely weakened, penniless, a hippie with two babies and a wife, decided to accept an invitation from his in-laws to come visit them in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was 27 years old.

1963
The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded by Peter Schumann on New York City’s Lower East Side. Besides rod-puppet and hand puppet shows for children, the concerns of the first productions were rents, rats, police, and other problems of the neighborhood. More complex theater pieces followed, in which sculpture, music, dance and language were equal partners. The puppets grew bigger and bigger. Annual presentations for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Memorial Day often included children and adults from the community as participants. Many performances were done in the street.

From the humble loft on Delancey Street, the Theater took to the streets and beyond. Enmeshed in the radical counterculture of downtown New York, and informed by Elka’s heritage of political activism, beginning in 1964 with some of the earliest demonstrations against U.S. Involvement in Southeast Asia, Bread & Puppet became a familiar presence in the protest movement against the Vietnam War over the following decade. They staged block-long processions and pageants involving hundreds of people.

Peter Schumann: "...that came from New York City, from being here and realizing, when you play out in the street, that the little stuff is too little. So want to be bigger, and bigger meant really bigger. So we kept growing them to larger sizes and, yeah, still growing."

Fire

In 1968, Bread and Puppet presented Fire, an understated yet hard hitting indoor piece about the Vietnam war, to critical acclaim at the Nancy Theater festival in France. This launched the theater into international prominence and helped secure over a decade of seasonal touring in Europe and beyond.

read more

(scroll for more)

Dedicated to Norman Morrison, Roger Laporte, and Alice Hertz, Americans who immolated themselves in protest against the war in Vietnam in 1965, Fire is an achingly slow, wordless play describing seven days in a Vietnamese village. Live performers and life-sized dummies all in hooded black bag costumes with floor length skirts covering their entire bodies wear identical white masks while performing daily life activities including chatting, eating, drinking, and dancing until interrupted by a U.S. air raid. At the climax of the play, one of the woman immolate herself, an action depicted by her slow unrolling of a roll of red tape around her body. Fire elicited immediate and strong responses among audiences in the US and Europe, including a critic for Le Monde in Paris who wrote: The most remarkable thing about this short play is that with the extremely simple technical means - a rattle, a violin, a bare light bulb, a soup tureen, and some masks - Peter Schumann actually manages, without any words, without attacking our consciences or our feelings, to give us an illuminating vision of Vietnam. Suddenly we feel the ‘reality’ of the war, more than any ideological speeches, well-meaning films or pictures of the napalmed children could convey.” Fire was revivied in the 1990’s, and most recently int he summer of 2014, when it was performed in and around New England as an “emergency performance for Gaza.” - John Bell
Inside the Bread and Puppet Museum on Delancey Street
The politics were also local – during the summers of ’65 and ’66, Bread & Puppet created large scale outdoor pageants in some of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City, and in collaboration with the residents addressed urban political and social issues of the day. It was here that some of B&P’s most enduring puppet icons – Uncle Fatso, The Dragon, Mother Earth and Uranus – were created with the help of the neighborhood kids.

This photograph was taken in 1966 at a demonstration at St. Patrick's Cathedral.


The first Unlce Fatso was made of celastic by Peter Schumann in 1966 as part of a community puppet-building workshop in El Barrio, the Puerto Rican neighborhood on New York City’s Upper East Side. The children taking part in the workshop gave this outlandish puppet his name, an in the following decades Uncle Fatso’s gruff demeanor, top hat, and large cigar, and his roles as an outlandishly comic authority figure lead audiences to a ssume (in different eras) that he was a portrait puppet of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or George Bush. In Russia, under a black top hat, he was taken for Leonid Brezhnev.

Political Demonstrations
In New York City in the 60's

At the urging of his friends Grace Paley, Robert Nichols, and War Resisters League, Peter Schumann began to take his puppets out on the street to be part of the nascent public demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the early 60s. Soon Schumann and his Bread and Puppet colleagues were building puppets specifically useful for these processional performances in public spaces, such as the Shark Airplane and the Vietnamese Women.

These over-life-sized puppets, often performed in large choruses, were startlingly effective ways of articulating the feelings of the hundreds and then thousands of Americans who began to oppose the war in Southeast Asia. In a number of such parades, Bread and Puppet presented a single file of oversized Vietnamese women which were then attacked by the Shark Airplane. The women puppets would fall to the ground, thus stopping the forward motion of the parade but then rise again to continue processing down the street. The alternation of rising and falling with the forward motion of the parade created a dynamic street choreography remembered by all who saw the performance.

Bread and Puppet chronicler Stefan Brecht writes that which such events, Schumann “invented an art form, the puppet parade, peculiarly adapted to mass parades; he was pretty much the only one during the 60’s to develop this parade art. The fact that his puppets showed up so consistently in New York City peace parades on these occasions meant that they provided them with a consistent image." - John Bell

Imagery of the Bread and Puppet Theater participating in the Hiroshima Day Walk and The Fifth Avenue Peace Parade captured during 1965 - 1966
In support of Latino housing agitation, Peter Schumann, Lower East Side, November 30, 1964
Nuclear Freeze Demon-
stration

These beasts to the left are the chief characters of The Cry of the People for Meat, 1968-1969, a two hour condensation of Old and New Testaments which traveled through Europe for nine months till these poor beasts were beaten to a pulp.

Its title, The Cry of the People for Meat, discretely - since the dechristianized public wouldn't recognize the reference - states its subject matter to be the problem of how a Godless humanity is going to make it in the Promised Land: humanity is belly-run, murderous, and shrinks from the hardships. It is ready by March '69. There are open rehearsals at the Courthouse in March, and showings at some New York colleges.

"The evening’s first play, Dead Man Rises, was performed as part of the student occupation at Columbia University in 1968. The story was a sort of fable with roots in Noh drama, performed here with life-size puppets — cast members in oversize robes with papier-mâché faces — and both puppets and backdrops were in black and white. Dialogue was provided in creepy and sometimes inaudible whispers by other performers just outside the lights. It was simple, striking, weird . . . and low in intelligible meaning." (from Boston Globe)

The piece presented here, Dead Man Rises was performed more or less every Saturday at the Astor Library from early May to November '67. Schumann says this was a revision of it: he found he could not reconstruct it from memory - he had lost his notes.
The piece seems to be making the compound statement: love is women's vivification of men; it is their union in death (or: a women's love for a man is her suicide), the union in love and death of a man and a woman is the highest form of life.
(The) Dead Man Rises
An excerpt showing footage of Bread and Puppet performing A Man Says Goodbye to His Mother during the Columbia Occupy student protest in 1968.
The film is Peter Whitehead's The Fall
In February, for the first time since December 67, we again find the Bread and Puppet in the streets of New York City: Uncle Fatso appears on page 28 of the New York Times of February 17 ’70: ‘Protest Chicago Trial: Demonstrators Marching from City Hall Park yesterday to Foley Square to protest series of contempt citations given by Judge Julius J. Hoffman.’ ‘Judge Foggman was depicted in effigy in the vanguard of the parade’ - the egregious Hoffman had found the ‘Chicago 7’ on trial for having August 1968 entered the state of Illinois with the intention of inciting to riot, guilty of contempt. Uncle Fatso, the effigy of the judge, effigies of a rat and a pig were carried, and confirms the Black Panther cry of ‘Power to the People!’ Out of 3000 participants, 10 were hurt, 15 arrested.
"I heard recently that you were thinking of leaving New York and going into a rural area. Why?" "The stink. The thick column that you see when you come into New York, and the dirt under your fingernails." "Who would be your audience out there?" "Trees. Farmers. We are not leaving the city so we can do social action theater in new environments. We simply want to get out of New York because it’s stinky and dirty. We’ll live out in the country and return to the cities when we have to. Also this business of being a 'Professional protest theatre' doesn’t seem good enough"
Moving from
New York to
Vermont

Peter Schumann first moved his production to Coney Island in 1970 to get away from the city. He put on workshops for kids and old folks and performances for summer crowds under an awning in an old theater. Simultaneously, he was working on several puppet shows with students at Goddard College in Vermont. They decided to move there full time after Coney Island didn’t work out.
After Peter Schumann and his family established themselves at Goddard College, the idea of a circus format stuck in his mind. The excitement, the shoddy glamor, the gestures of presentation - by fanfares, drum-whirls, ringmasters, the variety of the how, the diverse multiplicity of stunts, beauties and marvels. The presentational mode of circus connects up with an idea important to him during this period, that of ‘non-narrative narration’, an indicative frame that is part of the show. The variety show form of circus, given the impact of Coney Island (and perhaps from his childhood, of midsummer country fairs) on Schumann, connects up with the idea of an amusement park.
In the Goddard Trimester Calendar of the Spring of ’71, Schumann says the Bread and Puppet Theatre in early February ’71 did ‘two demonstrations in Montpelier protesting the United States invasion of Laos, the second one with a large contingent in masks depicting the faces of war: death, prisoners, business as usual.'
President Nixon’s pardon of the war criminal Calley in the sprint of ’71 inspired Schumann, sensitive to the moral and political challenge, and perceiving that its analogy to the birdwatcher Kyoyori’s pardon by the Kind of Hell presented an opportunity to portray the world as hell.
The Birdwatcher in Hell - 1971 - In the original play (translated by Arthur Wales for his influential anthology the No Plays of Japan) the wily birdwatcher Kyoyori fights with the demonic minions of Yama, the King of Hell, whom he then convinces to pardon him from the damnation because his sins of killing birds were committed in the service of gentlemen. The spectacular scale of the Bread and Puppet production and its intense use of the color red re-framed the horror of the My Lai massacre and Nixon’s pardon of Calley in a distanced framework which allows for contemplation of the moral and political questions raised both by the massacre and the president’s response. Performed both outdoors in pageant settings, and indoors on proscenium stages, The Birdwatcher in Hell toured in the United States and Europe, and was revived with some of its original cast in 2013 and 2014. - John Bell

In 1975, Bread & Puppet moved to an old dairy farm in Glover, in the Northeast Kingdom. In Vermont, the annual Our Domestic Resurrection Circus was created, using the pastoral landscape to stage large scale outdoor productions.

As the Theater faded from the contemporary theater spotlight, the two-day festival grew to become Bread and Puppet’s central activity, produced by over one hundred volunteers and drawing audiences in the tens of thousands. Seasonal touring became even more diversified, and included more local, regional and third world venues; Bread and Puppet workshops – where shows and circuses were put together using local volunteers – became a more common mode of production and performance; and the Bread and Puppet Press grew to become a staple of the theater’s income.
listen

The Domestic Resurrection was a summer project since most of the work was done outside. In the winters, Bread & Puppet travelled to Europe and performed their pieces there. They gained a large amount of popularity in France, and attended other places like Siberia and England. The two pieces performed abroad were Joan of Arc and The White Horse Butcher. These two puppets are from those performances.
listen

Hundreds of puppeteers came from all over to watch and participate in the Domestic Resurrection Circus. The summer was set up with commune-like living where people would live and build puppets at Dopp farm in Glover, Vermont. There was a cook and a garden to provide food for the people living at the camp.
The Domestic Resurrection Circus contained many different small productions about greed, capitalism, money, forest preservation, land taken from other cultures, and the plight of farmers. Parts of the festival day would be split into the Slideshows, the Circus, The Passion Play, and the Pageant. Bread & Puppet residents would create cheap art and sell it on renovated school busses for circus-goers to purchase. People would create collages, screen prints, and small paintings and bring all sorts of skills to Bread & Puppet.

The Bread & Puppet Theater has travelled all over the world to teach oppressed societies ways of expressing themselves through puppetry. People that cannot speak or protest for their beliefs can use puppetry as a way to say what they want to say. He has held workshops in Iraq, Italy, and countries in Africa.
Peter ended the Circus in 1998 after a drunken man killed another drunken man.

Bread and Puppet Theater, the landmark political protest theater based in Glover, Vermont, was at the head of a march through Boston’s Roxbury and South End neighborhoods on May 6, 2007 protesting a high-security biolab for studying extremely deadly germs that’s under construction at Boston University Medical Center on Albany Street in Roxbury. (It’s right behind Boston's South End arts district.)
Bread and Puppet’s street theater action, performed over and over during the march, consisted of businesspeople led by Santa Claus pulling paper masks over other performers’ faces. Then these folks walked about like stiff-jointed robots, while the businesspeople opened their briefcases to display charts of skyrocketing profits. But the robot people revolted, pulling off their masks, throwing them to the pavement and stomping on them.
Putting it into words it sounds pretty straightforward – people under the spell of big business and Santa (think capitalist greed) come to reject these forces.

In the recent women's marches, Bread & Puppet has participated in both Montpelier, Vermont and in Washington DC. Their puppets stood for women's rights with handmade Venus Pudica figures and Fallopian tubas, making a huge visual impact among the hand-made signs and pussyhats.
Bread and Puppet now does smaller-scale performances with workshops, internships, and apprecticeships in the summer. This indoor performance was in Boston in 2011 called the Decapitalization Circus.
read more
(scroll)
Description:  The family-friendly "Decapitalization Circus" demonstrates in numerous death-defying stunts the fantastic effects of the capitalization of life in the U.S. and citizens’ courageous efforts of decapitalization.  The performers represent the whole scale of the social spectrum from benign billionairism to despicable homeless anti-social-elementarianism.  All the acts are FDA and FBI certified displays of patriotic correctness and defy all imaginable forms of terrorism.  The Possibilitarians, a multi-instrumental variety ensemble, provide the appropriate-inappropriate sounds for the Circus.  Performed by Peter Schumann and the Bread & Puppet Company, along with a large number of local volunteer puppeteers and musicians.  Take note that some of the circus acts are politically puzzling to adults, but accompanying kids can usually explain them.  The audience is welcome to examine all the masks and puppets after the performance.  Cheap art will be for sale after each performance. - from the Boston Center for the Arts
One of the most enduring legacies of Bread and Puppet is its autonomy, receiving no direct government or corporate funding, but instead relying on its own practice of frugality and a huge amount of volunteerism, along with the merged incomes of performance fees, Press sales and donations to pay its own way. This model is in itself an art form, not only of puppetry and theater making, but also a lived philosophy of art and activism.

Bread and Puppet’s impact on the greater world of experimental theater is acknowledged by scholars, and evidenced by the hundreds of unique theater companies now in existence that cite Bread and Puppet as an influence, in countries from Nicaragua to Italy, Korea to France, Peru to Poland, and of course the U.S.

It is difficult to conceptualize what this past fifty years of work represents: how many thousands of hours of paper-mache, sewing and painting; hundreds of thousands of hours of puppet rehearsal and performance; the countless band rehearsals, meetings, training sessions for volunteers; millions of miles traveled by the many many Bread and Puppet company members across these fifty years.
This is a landmark we celebrate with astonishment and humility.

-from the Bread & Puppet Board of Directors, 2010

Image credit

Personal Photography

Simon, Ron. Mammon Burning. 1993. Theater of Memory, Ron Simon, 2016, www.theaterofmemory.com/art/ bread/pageant/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

"Circus and the Crowd at Bread and Puppet." 1983. Barton Chronicle, Chris Braithwaite, Aug. 2013, bartonchronicle.com/tag/bread-and-puppet/.

Grady, James J. B&P30. 2010. Shift, James J Grady, July 2010, jamesjgrady.com/2010/07/14/ bread-puppet.

Fortune, Bonnie. Outdoor Ampitheater. Mythological Quarter, 2012, mythologicalquarter.net/2012/08/07/ bread-and-puppet/.

Dannenhauers, Mark. Bread & Puppet. 2012.

BreadPupSumPagent. THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF AESTHETIC RESEARCH, Greg Cookland, 2007,

aesthetic.gregcookland.com/2007_02_11_archive.html.

Statue of Liberty. Historias de Nueva York, Luis Mano, historiasdenuevayork.es/.

LunaNYXstock. Curtain - 04. Deviant Art, lunanyxstock.deviantart.com/art/Curtain-04-54766563.

Marx, Bill. Linda Elbow in the Guise of the Radical Librarian. The Arts Fuse, 2013, artsfuse.org/ 75655/fuse-theater-feature-bread-puppet-theater-turns-fifty/.

Kirsch, Gunter. The Salt Market. Alamy Photos, www.alamy.com/ stock-photo-the-salt-market-plac-solny-is-a-place-in-the-wroclaw-old-town-wroclaw-95659806.html. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.

NYC Blackout. 1977. Mashable, mashable.com/2015/11/02/nyc-blackout/#8Wvuxsdibsq8. Accessed Dec. 2016.

Cook, Greg. Bread and Puppet Theater’s “Nothing Is Not Ready Circus”. Aug. 2014. WBUR, Aug. 2014, www.wbur.org/artery/2014/08/28/bread-and-puppet-theater.

Film/Video credit

Personal Film

The Fall. Directed by Peter Whitehead, 2007.

"Bread and Puppet Theater: FIRE." Internet Archives, uploaded by Bread & Puppet Theater, Oct. 2015, archive.org/details/BP1510fire. Accessed Feb. 2017.

AH! THE HOPEFUL PAGEANTRY OF BREAD & PUPPET. Directed by Deedee Halleck, Bread & Puppet, 2001.

"Bread and Puppet performs Dead Man Rises: Haybarn Theatre, Goddard College, 11/30/2012." Youtube, uploaded by Goddard College, Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W04NEzzz9c.

"Bread and Puppet Theater group at the Women's March." Youtube, uploaded by Peter Martin, 22 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8PNbhb6FOo.

"Bread and Puppet 2010 -Decapitalization Circus." YouTube, uploaded by Video Vermont, 30 July 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Os4yVENw1og.

GIF credit



All GIFS from giphy.com

Interview credit

Schumann, Peter. "Bread and Puppet Theater Founder Peter Schumann on 50 Years of Art and Resistance." Interview by Amy Goodman. Democracy Now!, 26 Dec. 2013, www.democracynow.org/2013/ 12/26/bread_and_puppet_theater_founder_peter.

Schumann, Peter. Interview. Glover, Vermont. Dec. 2016.

Book credit

Brecht, Stefan. The Bread and Puppet Theatre. Vols. I, II, Routledge, 1988. 2 vols.

Illustration credit

All illustrations by Molly Reed

Article credit

Cookland, Greg. "Bread and Puppet Protest." The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, 25 May 2007, aesthetic.gregcookland.com/2007/05/bread-and-puppet-protests.html.
back to
beginning