Bread & Puppet Theater takes social injustices to Belfast in popular show

Posted:  Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 3:30pm
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BELFAST — It was a whirlwind hour of socially charged puppetry at the United Farmers Market Sept. 11, as Bread and Puppet Theater moved their performance indoors to avoid a grey and soggy day.

Originally set to perform at Belfast Commons, the large performance group instead played to a packed house, with dozens of children crowding the floor in front of rows of chairs. There were far more people than chairs or floor space, and a crowd remained standing on the outskirts of the room for the duration of the performance.

With more than a 100 in attendance, chatter and laughter created a steady cacophony before the show began, with members of the group drifting around the large space with giant top hats used to collect donations.

Bread and Puppet Theater originated in 1963, when a “group of scruffy troubadours rented out a small loft on Delancey Street in New York’s Lower East Side, and began putting on weekly performances,” according to the group’s website

The group’s head, Peter Schumann, a dancer, sculptor, and baker would bake sourdough bread that was handed out during the group’s performances, ultimately leading to the name Bread and Puppet Theater.

Bread and Puppet Theater moved to a farm located in Glover Vermont in 1974.

Early performances were also politically geared, with the group becoming “a familiar presence in the protest movement against the Vietnam War,” according to their site.

Social injustice remains the focus of the group today, with the Grasshopper Rebellion circus touching on a number of timely issues during its Sept. 11 performance, though the solemn nature of the day was not a focus of the show.

The volunteer members of the large group took turns dressing in detailed papier mache and cardboard creations, with some of the puppets towered over seven feet in the air. The show, which consisted of multiple issue-focused skits, also included custom music performed by members of the group, who often sang songs to narrate the story on display at the moment.

Skits ranged in size from several group members to dozens, with volunteer performers rushing behind a large curtain backdrop after each skit to change their cardboard and papier-mache masks and gear.

The scenes performed varied from cardboard cars and a sun attacking a larger than life Antarctic shelf, which ultimately deflated, only to be resurrected moments later and leave the stage with the same height it arrived with.

In another skit, chairs were turned into musical instruments as they were held over group members heads and opened rhythmically.

One skit that proved popular with the crowd was when several women came forward dressed as members of the Supreme Court. Eventually, the performers stripped away their robes to reveal an outfit beneath with a single letter on it, together the group spelled ‘fascist.’

To end Grasshopper Rebellion, group members and volunteer performers rushed the stage to take a bow, with the audience providing a standing ovation.

There was art available for purchase at the show in addition to bread, which was available to those who remained after the performance.

The group earns money through donations and sales of art and other goods. 

Additional photos here.


Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com