Bread and Puppet Theatre Collection
Scope and Content Note
The Bread and Puppet Theater collection contains a wide variety of materials from the founding of the theater in 1962 to the present (1985). Ordered chronologically a large portion of the collection for each year consists mainly of correspondence which includes performance requests, job and participation inquiries, and personal letters. /Articles and reviews refer not only to Bread and Puppet, but sometimes to other similar alternative or experimental theater groups, as well as current social and political events that may have been incorporated as subjects of Schumann's plays. Flyers and advertisements are good examples of Peter Schumann's art work; usually these are undated. Financial papers include account books, bills, salaries, receipts and grants.
The collection includes correspondence, contracts, schedules of performance and news clippings or reviews relating to the numerous European, Canadian and U.S. tours. There is also information regarding Goddard College, exchanges with other theater groups, addresses of members, friends and performance places. Several scripts and publications and a bibliography of films and publications about and by Bread and Puppet are in the collections. The bulk of the material is prior to 1980; correspondence, financial accounts and tour information are lacking for the later period.
A total of nine folders with photos of puppets are in the collection; some of the articles and reviews also have photos. There is also one tape cassette ("Insurrection Oratorio"-Carton III.)
In addition there are several untitled prints for productions abroad. Wood block prints were made by Peter Schumann using different colors, but mostly black and some red and blue. Some posters dated, others undated. There are various representations or prints for the same performances. (In map cases in closed stacks. )
- Bread and Puppet Theatre (Organization)
Language of Materials
Collection is open to research.
Description and Brief History of the Bread and Puppet Theatre
The Bread and Puppet Theater was formed by Peter Schumann in 1962, one year after its founder moved to New York City from West Germany. Until 1971, Bread and Puppet resided in New York City, working in Coney Island and the East Village. In June 1970 part of Bread and Puppet moved to Plainfield, Vermont, as a theater-in-residence at Goddard College. Here the group held the first annual "Domestic Resurrection Circus," a two-day festival "celebrating the beauties and lamenting the sorrows of our existence in scores of mask, music and puppet performances," (Box III- "Short history of the Bread and Puppet Theater"). Bread and Puppet has given workshops in sculpture, mime, dance, story-making, puppet building and operation, music and instrument making at Goddard College (1971-1974) and in Glover, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont where the group has converted an old barn into a museum, displaying hundreds of masks and puppets. In 1974 Bread and Puppet moved to Glover where it has remained ever since.
Since its beginnings, Bread and Puppet Theater has been a small, self-managed, non-commercial theater. Despite the lack of financial and material funding, Bread and Puppet continues to thrive, always committed to increasing people's awareness of pertinent social and political issues. Often depicted are the victims of injustice, plagued by war, hunger and social oppression. During the sixties, Bread and Puppet frequently participated in demonstrations against American involvement in Vietnam, using over-life size puppets and masked performers. Although Schumann expressly says that the shows are not political, the subjects of his plays are very thought-provoking, demanding that the audience question their moral responsibilities. Underlying all the performances, however, is a note of hope and optimism.
Bread and Puppet derives from ancient folk traditions: medieval morality plays, Punch and Judy, Sicilian and Balinese puppetry, and Japanese Bunraku. Classical art and the bible have also influenced Schumann, as well as current events. Having studied art, sculpture and music in Germany, Schumann has fused these elements into the creation of a unique puppet theater. Puppetry is the essence of this theater, preferring action to dialogue; the puppets display life in simple, ritualistic terms rather than trying to explain it or teach about it. Peter Schumann believes that "puppetry and all the arts are for the Gods, are wild, are raw material, are bread and sourdough....are for life and death, births, weddings, exaltation and sorrow, not for professionals and specialists of culture." (Box III, 1980)
Believing that theater is a basic necessity like bread, Bread and Puppet has brought its theater out into the streets to those who may otherwise not go to the theater. Larger than life size puppets often on stilts, wear huge masks with expressive faces, singing, dancing and playing music. Participation in these plays varies from two to over one hundred actors, including children. Out in the city streets and the fields of Vermont and unimpeded by theater walls, the audience becomes more engaged in the performances and relates with the characters themselves.
Bread and Puppet is recognized throughout the world and has won distinction at international theater festivals in Italy, Poland and Yugoslavia. Notable awards include the Erasmus Prize of Amsterdam, two Obies, the Puppeteers of America's President Award, and the Vermont Governor's Award. Bread and Puppet is constantly active, performing in local churches, schools and parades. It regularly tours Europe, Canada, the United States and has recently visited Africa, Venezuela and Australia. The first European tour was in April and May 1968 when it went to London, Berlin, Amsterdam and the Nancy Festival in France, performing mostly "Fire" and "Dead Man Rises." Later Bread and Puppet performed in Italy, Poland, Germany, and Denmark. The collection has ample information concerning these European performances, such as contracts, addresses, correspondence, and articles and reviews about the group. There is also a detailed history in Box I, folder I of Bread and Puppet's tours and plays produced. Articles about Bread and Puppet can be found in the Reference Files at Special Collections.
3 Linear Feet (3 cartons, plus publications, drawings and assorted oversized materials)
The Bread and Puppet Theater collection covers the period from 1962 to 1985 and contains flyers and advertisements, financial papers, correspondence, schedules of performance, news clippings or reviews, information regarding Goddard College, exchanges with other theater groups, several scripts and publications, a bibliography of films and publications about and by Bread and Puppet, and photographs.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Bread and Puppet Theatre, December 1986
Inventory completed January, 1987.
- Guide to the Bread and Puppet Theatre Collection.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository
Silver Special Collections Library
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