Some of the greatest cultural events that I’ve witnessed have come via Vermont’s Bread & Puppet Theater. Its Washerwomen Cantata, performed throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, was a revelation of lyrical theatricality wedded to heartfelt political hopes and dreams. Its large, weeklong Domestic Resurrection Circus events of the 1980s and 1990s were creative bacchanals, epic yet intimate; they were brought to a close when the happenings grew too large and Bread & Puppet founder Peter Schumann decided that enough was enough. Success was pulling him and the theater away from its roots.
It’s there at the annual Halloween parades in New York, and at almost every major protest that has occurred in the Northeast since the early 1960s, when Bread & Puppet first emerged from New York’s Lower East Side, a decade before it headed for Vermont. And the barn up in Glover, Vermont where it has stored all its past puppets, along with a nearby forest cemetery of past puppeteers, may be one of the great artworks of our time, partly because of its mouse-eaten, unarchived timeliness (leading to a particularly memorable timelessness).
Here in the Hudson Valley, the folks come down from their farm in the Northeast Kingdom by colorful bus every March (mud season) for a long weekend of performances and other fun at Time and Space Limited (TSL) Warehouse in Hudson. They’ll be rolling into town for shows from Thursday, March 22 through Sunday, March 25. After that, they’ll join the Occupy extravaganza across the river in Catskill on Monday and Tuesday, March 26 and 27, and then head off on a tour of the Midwest.
“For a while now, many of us have felt growing dissatisfaction with some popular arts events. They’re profit-driven, and priced beyond what the average artist can afford. And they’re expanding into other arts areas, too,” Schumann and crew declared in their Cheap Art Manifesto of 1984. “There comes a time when pricing at ‘what the market will bear’ holds arts events – and, to some degree, the arts – hostage. You need an affluent full-time job just to afford some of the bigger events. And when you get there, the environment feels more like cliques than the free expression of art. It’s time to stop the nonsense. Let’s earn our money by making and selling art, not by overcharging students.”
The troupe, which plays music and leads workshops wherever it goes, will be performing four shows from the Republic of Cardboard in Hudson at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, plus a 12:30 p.m. lunch and 2 p.m. performance on Sunday afternoon, March 25.
In Catskill, it’ll be presenting street events on Tuesday, March 27. There will be rehearsals around town on Monday and a noon performance in the parking lot adjacent to the Greene County building off Church Street, at Brandow’s Alley. All volunteers wanting to join in are welcome to contact the Greene County Council on the Arts beforehand.
“We believe in puppet theater as a wholesome and powerful language that can touch men and women and children alike,” Schumann has said of what has driven his humane and effective vision for over a half-century now. “We hope that our plays are true and are saying what has to be said, and that they add to your enjoyment and enlightenment.”
For further information on the TSL performances, which will take place at 434 Columbia Street in Hudson, call (518) 822-8100 or visit http://www.timeandspace.org. For more on the Catskill events, call (518) 943-3400 or visit http://www.greenearts.org. For more on Bread & Puppet, visit http://www.breadandpuppet.org.