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Bread and Puppet 1998 - Reviews and Commentary

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This free outside pageant is held every year (usually at the end of August) outside the village of Glover. It's outdoor political theatre on a grand scale, using giant puppets combined with free slices from fresh loaves of sourdough rye bread, baked in outdoor Quebec-style clay ovens.

This is an event that has become an annual pilgrimage for some. While the purpose is to absorb the political commentary, absorbing the scene can be just as rewarding. For one thing, there's a strong element of stepping back in time to the heady Sixties. On a late August weekend (the exact dates of Bread & Puppet are never advertised for fear of unmanageable crowds) the rolling hay fields that surround the site become suddenly filled with tents, RVs and Volkswagen micro-buses. Tie-dye flags flap in front of many tents.

The Sixties generation is always well represented, arriving in Ford Explorers, Nissan Pathfinders and even the occasional BMW. The less well-off arrive in rusting Subarus and even old Beetles. You can find professional people such as lawyers and doctors amongst this group. One fellow, a lawyer, tells of how he flies up from Pennsylvania, lands his light plane in nearby Newport, then sets up camp and dons sackcloth to participate in the pageant. Young people are here, too. Both sexes dress in long pants and skirts. They sport strange hats and wear tie-dye shirts. And, they carry drums and not guitars. They draw nervously on cigarettes instead of joints.

Over the years, some animosity has sprung up between the organizers and some members of the local community who were outraged when a local cemetery was desecrated by some hooligans one year. There have been deaths and some crime. There's also been some resentment over the sudden arrival of thousands of people. But this is balanced by what 20,000 to 40,000 people bring to the local economy, especially at the local general store, Currier's Market (locals swear by its meat). And, unlike the Grateful Dead concerts formerly held on the other side of the state in Highgate, people are not gouged for parking or faced with price-doubling by area businesses. It is not a rich crowd that comes to Bread and Puppet.

The Bread & Puppet Theatre was founded in 1962 on New York City's Lower East Side by Peter Schumann. The Bread and Puppet brochure describes the concerns of its first productions as being focused on "rents, rats and police". During the Vietnam War, Bread and Puppet staged block-long processions depicting "the arrogance of war-mongers and the despair of the victims." Thus, when the effigy of a black bull was burned a few years ago, many thought it symbolic of the Merrill Lynch logo.

Bread & Puppet is one of the oldest non-profit, self-supporting theatrical companies in the U.S. It moved to Vermont in 1974, eventually settling into a farm in Glover. A 100-year-old hay barn was transformed into a museum for veteran puppets, masks and paintings. You can visit the museum for free between May and October, 10:00am to 5:00pm daily.

Be sure to check the Bread and Puppet event calendar for future performances.