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Ian Thal

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Blogs by Ian Thal

Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XIV
1/20/2004 7:22:58 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

Anecdotes and observations regarding Bread & Puppet founder and director, Peter Schumann.


Before this opportunity to work with him, I had only knew Peter Schumann through transcripts of his lectures, manifestos on broadsheets, and academic accounts of his work where his role was that of as both inheritor of theatrical tradition, an interpreter of tradition, and an innovator within tradition. The articles by others show him as an artist who shapes the visual, performance and storytelling styles of his theater troupe. This Peter Schumann, is a figure from history texts about puppet theater. The histories rarely get at the person though.

In his own writings, he is a theorist who links his art with a commitment towards social justice and issues of war and peace. He accompanies these writings illustrations rooted in a history that stretches from the didactic allegories of medieval illuminated manuscripts to the international socialist printing presses to the subversive narratives of underground comix and sometimes these images threaten to subvert the accompanying text. Is it text or image that acompanies?

Of course, one way of learning about an artist like Schumann is to know his work or at least some of it in the detail I have sought to provide in the previous postings of this journal. One can liken this to the approach used by the natural philosophers on the attempt to know God through the functioning of the natural world (and thus beginning modern science.) I had the additional opportunity of being a volunteer member of the troupe (an experience to which the natural philosophers had no parallel.) This experience allowed some grasp of how he attends both to the details and the totality of the shows, his interests in both the sublime and the slapstick, even his role as a performer and leader-- aspects rarely mentioned in the articles I had read before. It also allowed for a level of focus that most theater writers do not have as I was effectively “embedded” (to borrow a term regarding journalists in Iraq) into the troupe.

I can't speak as to what Bread & Puppet or Schumann were like years in the past. Nothing I write should be taken as anything but a report on Bread & Puppet in November of 2003. I also should note that this writing project was never intended to have grown to such length. I never expected to do more than write down a few anecdotes.

Having read the illustrated works of Schumann the theorist of puppet theater before meeting him at the first rehearsal, I suppose that I expected someone more verbose. We rarely spoke at length perhaps out of shyness or perhaps he says most of what he needs to say through his art, but perhaps it was his gregarious nature or some mutual recognition that he would often greet me with a chuckle, a wink, a smile, or a thump on the back.

One late afternoon, in the hours before a show, I mention to Peter that I attended SUNY Purchase about a year and a half after he gave a lecture there (the lecture made it into a chapbook.) I add that it must have had some effect because when I arrived as a freshman, many of the ideas he expressed in that lecture seemed to have become entrenched in the culture of the school in which I began my trek towards adulthood. Peter noted how much fun he had when he was at Purchase and how he had played his fiddle when he lectured.

From there, he returned to kneading the dough for the sourdough bread he baked every day in the brick oven he had built in the parking lot behind the YMCA. Since the early days of B&P he has made fresh bread to share with the audience.

Friday evening of our the final weekend of the run, when we are but twenty paces from the theater on our way to a cast party, Peter points at my feet and says "You walk like Charlie!" I grin, as I know that he means Chaplin and certain that he has seen by the way that I move on stage that I know Charlie’s walk.

"You are wearing Charlie's boots!" I look down. My unusually large and beat up docs do look like something the tramp would have worn, though my feet are turned in while Chaplin's tramp walked with extreme turnout. Peter suddenly notices the difference, and corrects himself, "No, your feet go in..."

"Charlie walked with turn out, like this:" I say as I start emulating the Tramp walk, "but I have flat feet so I normally walk like this," look to the sidewalk and indicate my slightly turned in walk.

Emily says that I'm pigeon toed-- a phrase I had not heard since childhood. I walk better than I used to, but the boots are so worn away that my bad habits are returning. I return to my tramp walk and soon Peter joins me as we walk side by side down Mass Ave. The others follow us as we turn onto Magazine Street at Central Square, turned out and waddling together like a pair of Chaplins. He too looks like he could have been at home on a vaudeville stage or a Keystone one reeler. Both our height and proportions are much the same: a torso a little longer than average and legs just a little shorter. Later I write a poem about some of that walk.

At this point I have been working under his direction for two weeks, learning how he thinks about theater, politics, history, and philosophy, observing his sense of humor and his leadership, it seems like a conversation about the work would be superfluous, and that anything I might say about his show would be nothing more than an attempt to show that I am bright and he seems to keen an observer to have not made a fair evaluation of my intelligence by now. I am just happy to walk with him to the party and point out some of the little architectural. details that makes me enjoy the streets of Cambridgeport. We come upon a very elaborately designed nineteenth century house which bears the name “The London” in stained glass. The house was probably a hotel when first built. Peter exclaims, “If that is London, I can’t wait to see Marseilles on the next block!”

Once we arrive at the party we mingle with all of our friends and comrades. At one point one of the other volunteers gushes to Peter about how when she told her friends that she was going to perform in Bread & Puppet, one had announced that they studied his work in class. Peter smiles and seems amused, "they study me in university." Upon hearing this, Justin places a small coin in Peter's hand and they exchange bows. I wonder how many times this exchange has occurred and how much money Justin has lost.


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More Blogs by Ian Thal
• September 2007 Blog - Saturday, October 06, 2007
• August 2007 Blog Index - Sunday, September 02, 2007
• July 2007 Blog Index: - Wednesday, August 01, 2007
• June 2007 Blog Index - Monday, July 02, 2007
• May 2007 Blog Index - Wednesday, May 30, 2007
• The Adventures of CMYK - Tuesday, May 01, 2007
• April Madness - Tuesday, May 01, 2007
• Walt Whitman and I - Friday, April 20, 2007
• Breaking with Bread and Puppet - Thursday, April 12, 2007
• American Dissident Outs Stalinist Clown! - Saturday, February 24, 2007
• The Last Days of Judas Iscariot - Wednesday, January 03, 2007
• My First Feature Film Shoot - Monday, September 04, 2006
• Into the Station” at Boston City Hall - Saturday, July 08, 2006
• Becoming Fire - Friday, June 09, 2006
• Bill and Ian See Blue Man Group - Monday, April 17, 2006
• An Open Letter to Stephen Schwartz - Monday, April 03, 2006
• My Quarrel with The Weekly Standard's Stephen Schwartz - Saturday, March 04, 2006
• Bread & Puppet Journal, 2005 - Thursday, December 29, 2005
• Teaching mime with Open Air Circus - Friday, August 05, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VIII - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VII - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VI - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part V - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IV - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part III - Friday, December 24, 2004
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part II - Friday, December 24, 2004
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part I - Friday, December 24, 2004
• The Dresden Dolls show - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Waltzing to War @ Out of the Blue - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Word Play on SCAT - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Autographs & Interviews - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Beacon Hill Panorama @ All Asia Café - Monday, October 04, 2004
• Trip to Providence - Monday, October 04, 2004
• Interview in Providence Phoenix - Thursday, September 02, 2004
• Activists Vs. Artists - Friday, July 30, 2004
• James Van Looy Interview - Thursday, May 20, 2004
• The Perils of a Political Humorist - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• On Display - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• Whimsy: 4/29/2004 - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• Self Criticism - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• From The Archives: A Misreading - Tuesday, March 09, 2004
• Our National Anthem/Back in the USA - Friday, January 30, 2004
• Notes on the Confederacy/Back in the USA - Friday, January 30, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Epilogue - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XVII - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XVI - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XV - Friday, January 23, 2004
•  Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XIV - Tuesday, January 20, 2004  
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XIII - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XII - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XI - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part X - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IX - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VIII - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VII - Saturday, December 20, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VI - Tuesday, December 16, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part V - Tuesday, December 16, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IV - Monday, December 15, 2003
• Two Weeks With Bread & Puppet Theater: Part III - Sunday, December 14, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part II - Friday, December 12, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part I - Friday, December 12, 2003
• Flux Concert & Lunar Eclipse - Friday, November 28, 2003
• Squawkings, Hexings and Sonny Holiday - Sunday, November 02, 2003
• On Groupies and Bloggers: Part II: The Blogger - Monday, October 27, 2003
• On Groupies and Bloggers: Part I: The Groupie - Monday, October 27, 2003
• First Ballet Lesson - Sunday, October 26, 2003
• Economics of Art - Wednesday, August 13, 2003
• An artist at work - Tuesday, August 05, 2003
• Performance @ Large - Tuesday, August 05, 2003
• Friday, July 18th, 2003: - Sunday, July 27, 2003
• Trip to NYC, part II - Sunday, July 20, 2003
• Trip to NYC, part I - Sunday, July 20, 2003


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