On the day before my 28th birthday my sweet Kir whisked me away to the Northern mountains of Vermont to visit a place I had always longed to visit; the Farm and Museum of the Bread and Puppet Theater hiding away in the green hillsides of Glover.
The Bread and Puppet Theater is a beautiful, whimsical activist theater that was created in the 1960's by a magical and wizardly man named Peter Schumann who came to New York City after living as a baker, sculptor and dancer in Germany. I fell so in love with the theater's lovely colorful block-print art when I was a teenager, and I had large posters in my bedroom with flowers and accompanying powerful words like 'Sister Garden', 'Yes!' or 'Rise Up'.
The theater is incredibly politically active, initially protesting with block-long processions throughout NYC's Lower East Side featuring their signature gigantic puppets that require several people to maneuver and operate and that have always captured my imagination so much. The theater is somewhat controversial in it's own dear way, taking a firm anti-war stance and questioning every element of American authority, structure or status quo, especially in our foreign relationships.
I've always found it refreshing and classically Vermont, especially presented so whimsically and in such a childlike and thoughtful way with the use of puppets, dance, songs and wonderful music to illustrate the difficult concepts and world challenges they're addressing. Some of the puppets and styling were also replicated for the film Across the Universe!
The theater has it's own bold and abstract way of using language which has always fascinated me as a writer and someone who appreciates the power of words. Their widely attended performances in a huge rolling meadow near the farm are called their 'Insurrection Circuses' or 'Pageants'.
They also deeply celebrate creating by the means of what the founder calls 'Cheap Art', using paper mache, burlap, cardboard, recycled wood, chicken wiring, acrylic paints and cloth to create all of their puppets, even the massive and complex ones. The puppets are brought to life by the theatre's apprentices who stay at the Farm for the 7 week season and participate in the lifestyle of the farm, the Circus shows and creation of posters, prints and the puppets themselves who are all stored lovingly in the gigantic barn that they use as their museum, filled with dioramas from their past shows and processions.
One of my favorite parts is that they serve free fresh-baked sourdough bread to their audience and community after every show in honor of art being as important to humanity as bread itself. The aesthetic and styling as well as the stories is inspired by European fairytales, medieval passion plays, the Bible and folklore.
'An extensive local community participates and lends resources for the summer shows, parades, and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Children grow up in the theater and now even some of those children’s children are taking part. It is this network of support and volunteerism, as well as the attraction and commitment to an art form that is homemade, and which reflects on and addresses the concerns of the world and celebrates its beauty, that has made the Theater possible and what it is.'
My Kir and I drove down the winding foresty road past the crowds walking in on foot at the Puppet Theater with his wonderfulest and sweetest best friends Laloo and Isaiah and their two sons and our beloved puppy Little Bear. The meadow was just beginning to cloud over deep purple and blue and we could hear the oompah music of the jazzy band as puppeteers clad all in white linen scurried past us one by one as they took their places in the maze of painted buses and costumes.
By the time we settled into the grass the sky unleashed a torrent of rain and bright umbrella by bright umbrella opened up all around us. I tugged on my rain jacket and hood and Kir pulled his straw hat low over his face and we all cheered loudly as the first of the enormous puppets entered the scene accompanied by bison; a massive Water Protector spirit.
The sun rushed back to us after a few minutes and soon we were warm and dry again as scene after scene unfolded before us. Beautiful peasant women tackled the President figure (who amusingly bore quite a resemblance to our current American one), the Sun emerged with dancers bearing flags, and the performers sang out to us in loud unaided voices in Spanish. A group of waving, grinning flowers got in a fight with the Founding Fathers of the States and unanimously won. In finale they all tried to win us to their new political party the 'Possibilitarians' which was met with great enthusiasm by the crowd and then suddenly we were being ushered to another pasture for fresh sourdough and aioli.
Kir and I spirited away from the crowds up to the farm and Museum to visit the vintage Puppet collections. We wandered for ages through the farm and then in the gorgeous barns and I just wheeled and wheeled to get a glimpse of the thousands of puppets and artworks that covered every inch of the huge spaces.