Diagonal Life: Bread & Puppet comes to Middlebury
Ira Carp, Peter and Alka’s grandson, is circus master.
MIDDLEBURY — The circus is coming! The circus is coming!
Bread and Puppet Theater’s Diagonal Life Circus, that is.
Where? Why, right here to Middlebury’s Marble Works District on Thursday, Aug. 8, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
The Diagonal Life explores the bewildering, beguiling, and downright funny possibilities and implications of diagonality with the help of state-of-the-art paper-maché weaponry and the riotous Bread & Puppet Brass Band. This event continues Bread & Puppet’s longstanding embrace of the puppet circus, an annual production in which puppet animals, cardboard politicians and picture performance combine to tell the stories of the moment.
“It’s a fast-paced, colorful show that uses many different styles of puppetry to call attention to what we think needs to be thought about, and ultimately call people to action,” said Joshua Krugman, a puppeteer, performer, bus driver, musician and bread-baker. “The show offers moments of beauty, silliness and pathos.”
Krugman has been with Bread & Puppet for six years now. He lives on the farm in Glover when they’re not on tour.
The group tours in the fall, winter and spring — traveling all around the state, country and world.
“We were in France in September and October,” said Krugman, “and we’ll go to El Salvador this spring… We make it all around.”
But from mid-May through September, the Bread & Puppet company is based in Glover, where 15-20 puppeteers, 20-50 apprentices and 10-15 volunteers all get together to create large-scale work in their indoor theater and in the surrounding fields and woods.
Next Thursday, the whole cohort is coming down to Middlebury for the circus performance, thanks to Middlebury UndergrounD (MUD) — a nonprofit multidisciplinary arts and event production organization seeking to bring the diverse cross-sections of our community together around unique, shared experiences — led by Lisa Mitchell.
“I saw the Bread & Puppet Circus last fall in Rochester at Big Town Gallery and had the dream of bringing it to Middlebury — Marble Works specifically,” Mitchell said.
That dream was realized with the help of funds raised from MUD’s annual event Foodaroo.
“This year we used the money raised from Foodaroo to pay Bread & Puppet’s honorarium, feed their 50 member company and bring them to Middlebury,” Mitchel said. “Because we’re an arts and culture nonprofit, the mixture of puppets and political satirical comedy make a unique experience that we’re excited to share with our community. We’re thrilled to align with the craft and intelligence of Bread & Puppet’s productions and their commitment to stories of the moment.”
This year, those “stories of the moment” will focus on issues of refugeehood, asylum, migration, the cruelty of bureaucracy and exclusive behaviors.
“These issues touch this theater very personally,” explained Krugman. He was referring to the company’s founder Peter Schumann who around the age of 10 became a refugee of World War II and fled the bombings of his home in Silesia — a region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland.
“For Peter, the ‘diagonal’ addresses the current precarious situation of our world — on the verge of collapse, but always capable of uprising and rebellion,” Krugman continued. “I think he sees the world in profound peril. Our ecological world is in a diagonal state, ready to crash… also many of us feel like we are economically precarious in this moment and also precarious in terms of citizenship status.”
If it all feels a little heavy, it is… and it isn’t. After all, it’s the circus, and the performers of Bread & Puppet know how rise up to a challenge and still have a good time.
“We all have different roles in the struggle,” Krugman added. “As citizens or workers with documents, we have the time to make puppets, rehearse and make shows to raise awareness about these issues.”
“What we do is very similar to what many arts forms in many cultures do,” Schumann said. “Art is inclusive, not exclusive.”
Bread & Puppet productions have a special way of showing that inclusivity: bread.
“Bread and Puppet is based on bread baking and the not-for-sale distribution of bread at moments created by art,” Schumann explained to the Independent back in 2018. “These moments are created in opposition to capitalist culture and habit. Therefore the puppet show is not only a puppet show, but an eating-bread-together event.”
After the performance on Thursday, Bread and Puppet will serve its famous sourdough rye bread with aioli, and Bread and Puppet’s “Cheap Art” — books, posters, postcards, pamphlets and banners from the Bread and Puppet Press — will be for sale.
American Flatbread Middlebury Hearth will be on the green at River Front Park selling pizza, beer, wine and cider. Banoffi & Such will sell pastries from the Evolution Kitchen bus, and Royal Oak Coffee will offer delicious iced brews.
“We’re excited for people to come and see this show,” Mitchell said. “And if the community embraces this event, we’d love to host Bread & Puppet annually with money raised from Foodaroo.”
Tickets are available at the door, but no one will be turned away due to lack of funds. Suggested ticket price is $10-$25 based on ability to give. All of the proceeds benefit Bread & Puppet.