The Sustainable Energy of the Bread & Puppet Theater: Lessons outside the Box

By Estrin, Marc | Radical Teacher, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Sustainable Energy of the Bread & Puppet Theater: Lessons outside the Box


Estrin, Marc, Radical Teacher


I read somewhere that the average lifespan of an independent theater group is about seven years. I do not know where such figures originate, but from my experience it seems plausible to me. The average lifespan of a poorly maintained urban tree is seven years.

If seven years is an average lifespan, equivalent to a human life of 75, and if Bread & Puppet (B & P) has been around since 1963, that would make the Bread & Puppet Theater approximately 470 human years old. So, as you might ask about any 470-year-old person, what is it that sustains the Bread & Puppet Theater? Why has it lived so long and so energetically? And more generally, what is it that makes any organization--political, social and artistic, educational--long-term sustainable? Perhaps Bread & Puppet can do some radical teaching here.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Unlike most things in the depleting world, this group seems to run on a battery that is ever recharging and ever recharged. And like a battery, its strength is directly proportional to the difference, the tension, between opposite poles. My thought, after working with them for forty years, is that the secret of Bread & Puppet's survival is its continual feeding on six opposites in the universe. A Marxist or a Hegelian might call it eating dialectical tension.

1. Beauty-Ugliness.

Since 1974, the theater has lived in the inspiring landscapes of gorgeous Glover, Vermont. Open fields, with a built-in natural amphitheater, are surrounded by rolling meadows and hills, and capped by a mysterious evocative pine forest. Out of this rich milieu the plays and puppets emerge. At night, without ambient light, the sky is so clear one can see fourth-order stars with the naked eye. If one stops working and looks around in any direction, it is breathtaking.

At the same time, the theater thinks about and portrays gross ugliness--the ugliness of the contemporary world, polluted with ugly intentions and ugly effects. There are lots of "bad guys" among the puppets--butchers or suits we call them, and lately billionaires. They have their airplanes which mow down vast populations of helpless bas-relief figures. The theater was born in New York's Lower East Side and performs in low-income neighborhoods, with low-income people, around the world. But its current bucolic setting has never made it forget its origins or the people and values for whom it fights. Rather the opposite: I believe that the dialectical tension between the ugliness ever present to the minds of the puppeteers and the beauty which they see when they look around them fuels their energy.

Were Bread & Puppet to be a city theatre, living in the slums, scratching for leftover food, they would never know or imagine the possibilities of health for the world or for the wretched of the earth. On the other hand, were they just to live in the beautiful countryside, they might make a theater of Ooooohs and Aaaaahs, but they might easily forget the issues that surround them--the way many of us do. It is the constant tension between the beauty and the ugliness that keeps the theater on track, consistently making their unique, signature productions.

2. Hardness-Happiness

By and large, puppeteers are terribly hard working, but terrifically happy. That pairing is not uncommon, but it is too often enervating and alienating if one is not working at what one loves. Unlike factory workers, the puppeteers work 16 hours a day six days a week, and on the seventh they do their laundry. That is, the life is all consuming--researching, imagining, making shows, building puppets, rehearsing, practicing their instruments, plus the exhausting life involved in touring and in producing 16 different shows over eight weeks in the summer time. In short, work is hard, and the simple, rural life is hard. When there is no hammer, one has to use a stone, when there is no wood, one must harvest it from local trees on the land. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Sustainable Energy of the Bread & Puppet Theater: Lessons outside the Box
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.