File puptcrit/puptcrit.0811, message 137


Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2008 13:55:23 -0500
To: <puptcrit-AT-puptcrit.org>
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Bread Puppet addition


Dear Puptcrit Colleagues,

 There are a lot of different aspects to this complicated story, and
most of us are operating without first-hand knowledge of the situation
involving the recent Bread and Puppet performances in North Carolina.  
 I speak as member of the Bread and Puppet Theater company in the 70s
and 80s, and as a continuing participant in Bread and Puppet
performances.

In trying to tease out the strands of the situation, I see the
following:
- There was clearly miscommunication among presenters, performers and
audiences.  This issue is separate from the larger questions about the
possibilities of political puppet theater.  The fact that Bread and
Puppet modified its Circus performance according to the desires of the
village of Burgaw shows that the company was quite willing to adapt
itself to the wishes of a particular community.  It's unfair to assume
that Bread and Puppet's goal was to upset or outrage its audience.
This is a school gig that didn't turn out well.   How many of us have
experienced school gigs that didn't turn out well because of
miscommunication?

- I know the performers of this Bread and Puppet company well.  Some of
them were my students at Emerson College, and others I have known for
many years.  They are an immensely talented group of young puppeteers,
with amazing skills in all forms of puppetry, dance, music, acting,
painting, construction, and administration.  They are inspired,
knowledgeable, curious about the world, and eager to figure out ways
that live theater might be able to play a part in the intellectual,
social, and spiritual life in our United States.  They work very, very
hard.  In these young puppeteers I find immense hope for the future, and
I hope you all might one day get to see and enjoy their work firsthand.

- Strictly in terms of dramatic form, a circus (like a vaudeville
review, cabaret, or variety show) is not a tragedy.   A circus is a
collection of disparate acts showing skill (ta-da!) in a variety of
different performance techniques.  A circus like Bread and Puppet's,
which includes the goofy, the beautiful, and the political in its
succession of acts, is not at all similar to a tragedy ("Romeo and
Juliet" is Malgosia's example) into which extraneous information might
be inserted.  In a political circus, an act about an important political
situation that affects us all belongs there; it is not extraneous.  In
any case, even if I saw the "Romeo and Juliet" production Malgosia
imagines, I would never demand that it be stopped in mid-performance.

- I am saddened and disappointed at the degree to which some puptcrit
readers, acting on second-hand information, gossip, and innuendo, are so
quick to criticize fellow puppeteers who, like so many of us, work very
hard trying to make a living doing puppet shows in the United States in
2008.   The words "disingenuous", "crude", "lacking any sense of tact",
"false pretenses", and "deceptively" seem to me unjustified, especially
since they do not stem from first-hand knowledge of the situation.

- The larger question here is whether we as Americans can accept the
idea that art with a political context is possible.  Hobey Ford writes
that Bread and Puppet's work is "important", "[b]ut it is political
theater," as if the fact of its politics automatically discounts its
ultimate value.  Certainly there is "good" political art and "bad"
political art, just as there is "good" and "bad" commercial art,
religious art, folk art, indigenous art, and so on.  From Semar to
Petrushka, Punch, and Guignol; from John Heartfield's anti-Nazi puppetry
to Hitler's Reichsinstitut fur Puppenspiel; from the Modicut Theater's
communist satires to Republican Representative Rufus Rose's handpuppet
jibes in the Connecticut legislature; from "Team America World Police"
to the Puppets for Peace distribution of handpuppets to Iraqi children,
puppet theater has always played a part in politics, just as it has
always played a part in religion, commerce, and "pure" entertainment.  I
hope that, as puppeteers conscious of history and contemporary events,
we can appreciate puppetry in all its variations, continue to criticize
it, but also recognize its life-changing artistry, so evident in groups
such as Bread and Puppet Theater.

Best wishes,
john bell


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