Bread and Puppet Comes to Boston
By Rebecca Sananes
“Boycott the occupation of Palestine! Boycott the military industrial complex! Boycott Monsanto! Boycott the Boston 2024 Olympics!” cried a mix of Boston and Vermont performers from behind man-sized cardboard puppets, some standing in bare feet.
This is Bread and Puppet Theater: a mix of recycled materials turned into enormous puppets used in performance art that articulates a social message. Peter Schumann, who started the group in 1963, will accompany his players for their yearly appearance at the Cyclorama in the Boston Center for the Arts from January 28 through February 1 for this year’s show, “Captain Boycott.”
The three-hour performance art show guides the audience around the Cyclorama, which is decorated with large hand-painted murals filled with words of hope and dissent, by members of Bread and Puppet. The show was divided into three parts, some obvious storylines featuring performers holding signs overhead reading The 99%” and “The State,” and other portions left open for audience interpretation.
Joshua Krugman, a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, spent one summer as an apprentice at Bread and Puppet and never left. He explained his goals for the show saying, “We like people to chew on the work like they chew on bread.” Taking a moment to tune his violin, he went on to say, “We don’t like to chew on that for people.”
Bread and Puppet, founded in the East Village of Manhattan in 1963 as a puppet show for children, is well known for fueling oppositional art. It is responsible for some of the earliest demonstrations against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and has continued to be a staple in the political protests throughout the past 50 years. One of its former puppeteers, Julie Taymor, went on to direct Broadway’s The Lion King, using Bread and Puppet’s style of giant puppets in storytelling.
In 1998, Bread and Puppet moved to Glover, Vt., as a permanent fixture. There people live year-round on rolling acres of farmland. Families call converted painted school buses and RVs home, and share meals with other community members in one central house. During the summer, the company puts on a free theater production every Sunday, using their papier-mâché puppets to convey messages of resistance against the status quo to hordes of visitors from Canada and the U.S. alike.
Sophia Cannizzaro grew up just four miles from the Bread and Puppet commune and spent her childhood as a volunteer performer. Now, at 15, she travels and performs with the troop. “I love performing,” she says. But what keeps her working with the troop is its culture of acceptance. “Everyone is welcome, man, woman, or otherwise and everyone can participate.”
In fact, according to John Bell, a performer from Cambridge who has worked with Bread and Puppet since the mid-1970’s, some audience members have become performers. “ Last night a woman came and asked if she could be in it the next day and she did! It’s very inclusive,” he said.
After shows, performers invite audience members to join them for a reception featuring bread and garlic aioli made by Bread and Puppet members. This is the Bread and Puppet tradition: breaking down the barriers between art, artist and audience. Bread and Puppet invites everyone to nourish their minds, as well as their bodies.