Back in college (a decade ago, somehow), I majored in sculpture. During that time, my art was inspired by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Julie Taymor, the Weta workshop, and Bread and Puppet Theater. Once, I made a gigantic fabric sheep*. In another art class, I crafted a large puppet/costume of an old woman, and in yet another, I made a puppet/costume of a two-faced goddess.
When I was lucky enough to do study abroad in London for a semester, I worked with Emergency Exit Arts making gargantuan lantern puppets for various festivals.
My life is vastly different than it was a decade ago. I feel no desire to make large quantities of 3D art, and I have zero regrets about not pursuing puppetry. Nevertheless, I harbor a distant fondness for both. And so, when I planned our trip to the Northeast Kingdom, I did so with the intention of finally experiencing the Bread and Puppet theater!
Less than an hour from our farm field campsite, we arrive at what appears to be a commune in the middle of nowhere. After a bit of tentative poking around, we find ourselves in the Cheap Art Bus: a rusty, beat-up old bus covered in art-related graffiti and filled with reasonably cheap items for sale. We peruse their various offerings, and wind up purchasing (on the honor system) a screen-printed fabric patch for my brother, and a woodblock print for us to hang in our workshop.
Next, we find our way to the large barn that houses the Bread and Puppet Museum.
Inside the creaky old building are thousands of puppets retired from several decades of B&P shows. The place is incredible; the sheer immensity of it is staggering! There are puppets everywhere: on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, behind every corner.
There are tiny puppets, human-sized ones, and some two stories tall with faces as large as garage doors!
CRAZY! The museum alone was worth the trip. But our visit isn't over yet—it's nearly time for this evening's show! First, we're treated to a pre-performance education about tonight's topic: US involvement in Puerto Rico, and the life of political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera.
From the meaning of the word conspiracy to the indictment of seditious conspiracy, a group of competent clowns supported by a chorus of seditious conspiracy dancers demonstrate the effects of U.S. actions on the island of Puerto Rico, as well as the power of the government over the individual freedom fighter by highlighting the stages in Oscar’s life that led to his incarceration.breadandpuppet.org
When the actors are in order and our briefing is over, we enter the theater, a dark and dusty dirt-floored barn, with paintings and carvings covering every surface. We claim front row seats; the lights dim; the show begins. What follows is confounding and humorous, sometimes insightful, often bewildering. At times, the show makes me feel old and crotchety and jaded, and other times I am moved by the story and messages.
Mostly it's just nice to be sitting, captivated as a child, in the dark, magical space of a theater. It's been years and years since I've seen any kind of theater performance, and I decide that Tyler and I should really get out more and take advantage of our proximity to Boston, New York, and Montreal for shows!
After the performance, we linger for the free wood-fired bread samples, and then head back towards camp. Tomorrow, Bread and Puppet are performing their famous circus outside. If fruit tree buying wasn't our number one priority, we'd go for sure!
*When we were getting rid of all of our stuff before our big bike trip, Tyler and I stealthily left my sheep sculpture in front of a yarn store. When we visited later, we discovered that the sheep had become part of a yarn display. :D