Bread & Puppet to serve Middlebury sourdough and theater
Cantastoria is a street theater form championed by Bread and Puppet — a North East Kingdom theater company founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann — that involves the performance of pictures through the use of song, movement, text and puppetry. The word “canta-storia” comes from Italian (sung story), though the form has its roots in India circa 600 AD and has flourished in various guises all over Europe and Asia for the last 1,500 years.
For over 50 years, Bread and Puppet has performed Cantastoria in the streets and on stage to speak to the urgent themes of the moment. On Saturday evening, the troupe will bring “From The Possibilitarian Arsenal: A Cantastoria Extravaganza” to the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury.
This program comprises a chronological selection of five Bread and Puppet Cantastoria, from “The Foot” (1982) to “From the Possibilitarian Arsenal of Belligerent Slogans” (2017), all of which celebrate creative intervention in the face of an intolerable status quo, and the beauty and necessity of protest. The pieces demonstrate the range of director Schumann’s pictorial invention — from woodcuts emulating Dürer’s “Apocalypse” to wildly expressionistic paintings. The show also highlights the range of the Bread and Puppet ensemble — from impassive Brechtian didacticism to gleeful slapstick dance.
After the performance Bread and Puppet will serve its famous free 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. The Bread and Puppet Practitioners-of-the-Pursuit-of-What Brass Band will welcome the public.
Don’t miss the experience this Saturday, 7 p.m., at CVUUS, 2 Duane Court in Middlebury. Suggested admission $10-$25. No one turned away for lack of funds.
For more info visit cvuus.org or breadandpuppet.org.
Peter Schumann grew up in Silesia — a region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland — during the time of Nazi invasion in 1939. Around age 10 Schumann and his family became refugees of World War II and fled the bombings.
“We were refugees for years,” the 83-year-old said in an interview last week. “ We gleaned grains from fields and had a coffee grinder that we used to grind them up… There was a communal stone oven; families would bring their loaves there and we would all eat bread together. I continue that tradition; we bake every week.”
In the early 1960s Schumann and his wife Elka lived in New York City’s Lower East Side where Bread and Puppet Theater was born in 1963. In 1970, the couple was invited to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. where they spent five years in a theater residency before settling in their current location on an old dairy farm in Glover, Vt.
“Bread and Puppet is based on bread baking and the not-for-sale distribution of bread at moments created by art,” Schumann explained, “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.”
The bread served is the traditional rye sourdough from Schumann’s youth.
“My recipe isn’t even a recipe,” he said. “My mother made it that way; everybody made it that way… Common bread was rye bread, we only knew wheat breads for special occasions. And the bread was the main meal, not an accompaniment.”
Schumann learned to bake the bread in order to help his mother.
“Her hands were so worn,” he recalled. “She was very glad to have a young kid help her kneed the dough because the flour is not finely ground. It’s a heavy bread — you could use it as weapon, but you shouldn’t.”
Schumann bakes this same recipe for Bread and Puppet performances.
“Our show consists half of bread and half of puppets,” he said. “Bread in the U.S. is a pitiful substance. I wanted to show off what real bread is. Our bread is better than any commercial item could be because you eat it with your family, friends and community, and it sustains you for the rest of the day.”
Today, the Bread and Puppet farm grows and harvests its own rye (along with other vegetables) to use in its bread.
Try the bread for yourself at Bread and Puppet’s show at the Champlain Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury on Saturday, March 17.
But fair warning:
“You need good teeth; it’s a job to eat a good piece of bread,” Schumann said. “That’s another message right there.”
Bread and Puppet Theater Bread (mixed variety), as learned from Peter Schumann
Bread and Puppet bread starts with a rye starter. To create a rye starter, put some rye flour (or better, rye meal, if available) in a jar, and stir in water until the mixture is a pancake batter consistency. Keep it at room temperature and feed it a bit of rye flour and water every day, stirring to maintain a uniform, goopy consistency. After a few days, you should start to see bubbles. That means yeast and bacteria from your environment have taken up residence in the goop and you’ve created a living starter.
Note: If you want your starter to be unique and local don’t open any packages of dry industrial baker’s yeast in the presence of your starter before it’s healthy and strong — the industrial strains are powerful and they will out-compete the local strains at that early stage.
Once you have an active starter, you can keep feeding it every day if you’re baking regularly. If not, you can put it in the fridge and feed it once or twice a week.
The afternoon or evening before baking day, put most of your starter in a large mixing bowl. Then add a bit of rye flour and water to the starter in the jar to keep it going for next time. Into the mixing bowl, add enough rye and water so that the starter equals about half the volume of bread you want to bake, mix until uniform and let sit in a warm part of the house, covered with a damp cloth, overnight.
On baking day, add unbleached white bread flour in quantity equal to the volume of the expanded starter that sat overnight. Add a couple teaspoons or tablespoons of salt, depending on size (too much salt can inhibit rising, too little inhibits taste). Mix the salt into the white flour (that’s sitting on top of the rye mixture) with your fingers. Then knead the dough with your fists, punching down and turning over. Slowly add warm water at the edge of the bowl and keep kneading. Be careful to only add as much water as you need to integrate the dry matter. You’ll notice the longer strands of gluten forming. You’re done kneading when it feels like one united piece of dough, is a bit shiny, and no longer sticks to your fingers. (Expect total kneading time to be approximately 15 minutes).
Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for two to three hours. (More than three hours in warm weather can risk the dough “falling.”)
After the two to three hours, turn on the oven to its highest temperature. Then flour your hands, flour a surface, flour a pastry cutter, and flour baking sheet(s). With hand and pastry cutter, cut and lift loaf-sized chunks of dough from the bowl and roll them on the floured surface to coat them with flour, handling as lightly as possible. Quickly and gently lay the loaves on the floured pans (OK for loaves to touch each other and fit tightly in the pan).
With a knife, make a design on the surface of the loaves. This is your personal (or family) baker’s seal. (Schumann’s loaves are marked with a sun.)
Put the loaves in the oven. Leave them at the oven’s highest temperature for 20-25 minutes, or until loaves start to visibly brown. After 20-25 minutes, lower the temperature to 400F or so, for another 20-30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when you knock on their bellies.
Take them out of the oven and let them breathe. Wait 20 minutes before slicing. Store out or in paper bags to maintain hard crust.
Serve with aioli, which is made by mashing garlic with salt, then whipping in oil (and (optional) egg yolks) and adding fresh chopped parsley.
Peter Schumann is the director and founder of Bread and Puppet. He and his wife moved to Vermont in 1970 and now live on the farm in Glover where the theater company is based.
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