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UVM Theses and Dissertations

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Format:
Print
Author:
Wallenberg, Erik B.
Dept./Program:
History
Year:
2013
Degree:
MA
Abstract:
Bread and Puppet Theater is one of the longest-running, self-supporting theatre companies in America. Created in the midst of the experimental dance and theatre scene in early 1960s New York City, Bread and Puppet pioneered the tradition of producing "cheap art and political theatre." The group is most well known for its performances at demonstrations in opposition to the American war in Vietnam. Elka and Peter Schumann, the founders of the group, wanted to use a universally accessible form of culture - -public theatre -- to give voice to those opposed to and injured by the war. However, the roots of the Theater are more diverse than this. The group performed in support of rent strikes, neighborhood clean-ups, and labor disputes. These performances were an attempt to convey concerns and reinforce ideas that are often marginalized and ignored by the people making decisions in society.
This thesis is an exploration of the factors that have sustained Bread and Puppet Theater, even as it evolved in form and content. Beginning with an overview of the history of the Theater, chapter 1 explores the many influences on the group, including the New York avant-garde dance and theatre scene and its move to Vermont. Following Bread and Puppet's engagement with the social movements of the 1960s, the chapter illustrates Elka Schumann's centrality to the Theater, where in previous histories she has been absent. Chapter 2 examines the relationship between art and politics as conceived by the Schumanns and expressed in the work of the Theater. It recognizes that members of the Theater struggled with the desire to make good and socially relevant art while recognizing the need to make a living through this work.
Chapter 3 considers the material make-up of the Theater, from the highly stylized celastic puppets of its early days to the rough and simple papier-mache that has become its hallmark. The creation of theatre in the form of posters, banners, and booklet art accompanied this evolution and became an important form of theatre art. Finally, chapter 4 is an examination of work that the Theatre created utilizing environmental themes dealing with the impact of war on the environment, the nuclear threat to human civilization, and the relationship between humans and nature.