Forty volunteers for Bread & Puppet Theater's production of the Circus of the Possibilitarians sit in a big circle on the stage in Johnson Theatre. At the head of the circle, seven members of the company listen as each volunteer describes something he or she does well (dance, sing, play an instrument, do gymnastics, ham it up). Tomorrow, after just two rehearsals, this newly assembled cast will perform a play with no written script before an audience of 600.
The volunteers are mainly UNH students, along with a few high school students. At the first rehearsal, the performers learn songs, dances and how to manipulate the big cardboard props (a long blade of grass, a giant iris, a dragon's head). The next day, the skits are roughed out further, and finally there's one complete run-through before the 8 p.m. performance.
This process has been duplicated at other universities, art museums and public gatherings across the country. A call for volunteers goes out; the funky bus from Vermont rolls into town; everyone shows up for the rehearsals; and the show is created--in short order.
Bread & Puppet Theater was started by Peter Schumann on New York's Lower East Side in 1963 and moved to Vermont in 1970. The company is known for its massive outdoor spectacles performed in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. Its work addresses social, political and environmental issues. It has received many awards, including an Obie Award, the Puppeteers of America Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
"You can't pick up a book on theater history without reading about the Bread & Puppet Theater," says David Kaye, associate professor of theater and dance at UNH. "Their work provokes a full scope of artistic questions: What is theater? What is pageantry? Is street theater art? This kind of very immediate, political theater challenges us to re-examine our beliefs and broaden our perceptions."
Veronica DiPerna '04, a musical-theater major, was the head dancer for Maximus the dragon. "It was interesting to see how the company worked with the talent that they had to put on a performance in seven-and-a-half hours," she says. "The play incorporated all of the different theater skills."
Another theater major, Will Fraser '03, comments, "I'd never seen anything like it. How effective is it? If its purpose is to start conversations, it definitely does that." ~
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