Schumann was a dancer in Germany before he moved to New York in 1963. It was there that he founded The Bread and Puppet Theatre Company wherein he would conjure political puppetry shows whilst distributing fresh baked bread (Schumann was also a baker) to his audience. The show became a means of creating a political spectacle and the bread became a means of creating community (he was pretty left of center, which kind of scares me but I'm going with it because I like his puppets). Interestingly, Schumann tells this anecdote about the founding of the company:
"In the winter of 1961-62 I met Richard Tyler, uraninan ambassador and super of the tenement in which we lived. Consequently Dick and his team of uranian philansterers became the dancers and musicians of the Dance of Death, performed on the occasion of the anti-nuclear “general strike for peace” at the Living Theater, Judson Church, and at the Putney School in Vermont. These masked chair and rope dances resulted in the Putney School’s denial of my application to teach dance, and prompted me to offer puppetry as an extra-curricular activity instead." (taken from http://breadandpuppet.org)
"By the grace of the Whatever ¾ Almighty, we have survived and even sometimes thrived, doing hundreds of sculpture happenings and esoteric musicals with activist ingredients, and we hope to continue for a few minutes longer." –Peter Schumann
Schumann (now nearing 80) is still creating. For the company's fiftieth anniversary last year, he devised the This and That Circus (on the right), a show that boasts about having so many magical ingredients that, should accompanying parents fail to understand the performance, their children will guide them through it.
Schumann has the imagination of a child but the passion and gritty tirelessness of a man made of steel-like integrity. We honor his work today because of the company's appearance at Montreal's International Anarchist Theatre Festival.
CHECK IT OUT!
More festival information here.
Schumann eventually moved to Vermont to indite Bread and Puppetry as Goddard College's first theatre in residence. While there, Schumann composed the company's first Domestic Resurrection Circus (pictured to the left), a Vaudevillian circus-y piece which used the pastoral Vermont landscape as the organic backdrop for the show. Puppets were life-size or larger-than-life-size and eventually, audience breadth began to mimic this scale. The show became the company's most treasured annual occurrence but, tragically had to stop running after the death of an audience member in 1998. Still, the company has moved forward momentously and re-scaled their shows to be smaller and more diverse thereby covering a host of political issues held close to the heart of their think-tank.