Legendry; Interview with Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater
Good evening. This is Steve Robinson in for Frank Anthony and welcome to legendry and our program with Peter Schumann of the bread and puppet theater. The bread and Puppet Theater presently of Glover Vermont has resided in Plainfield Vermont and New York and has played its puppetry to audiences throughout Europe and the United States. Their annual spectacle the bread and puppet resurrections circus held every summer and Glover is one of the high points of Vermont's many cultural events. And now Frank Anthony and Peter Schumann. Good afternoon Peter Sherman for Vermont Public Radio. And I'd like to start our talk this afternoon by asking you a little bit about what it was like in Germany before you came to America.
I lived in a little village in Bavaria and I did some puppet shows there but I don't really know for what reason I came to the states. I just happened to come here. You remember about what time that was one night you know I was in one hundred sixty one thousand nine hundred sixty one. Had you been familiar with the Grimm fairy tales before that time. Oh yeah. If you globe in Germany if you had a kid in Germany how can you avoid being familiar with them fairy tales and know them by heart. I was the only book that. When we were kids and when we moved away from our homeland to another part of Germany after the war I believe that was the only book we had and we knew every story by heart and told us and we told to each other these stories again and again. I see Kenya Rehman as
just a little bit or recollect just a little bit about your experience as an artist in Germany had you been a sculptor there. You know if done sculpture sculpture graphic arts painting. But you don't remember exactly what the thinking was that made you decide to come to America. There was no major decision that was and was a visit from his family here in the states and there was no running away from Germany in it or any anything like that. It simply was a visit that was extended to end up being 18 years now. Yeah I wasn't thinking in terms of running away I was thinking more in terms of that perhaps you wanted to bring a tradition to this country that was not here. I don't think I felt that much involved in the tradition of puppetry in the time when I came here I was doing puppetry.
That was quite different from what you would call the tradition of puppetry. So whatever I did in Germany at the time certainly wouldn't be considered traditional in any way. Could you tell me just a little bit about the tradition of pottery because I know nothing about it and I think that the radio audience would be very interested in that in so far as there is a European tradition that goes along with the art of pop or there isn't just a European tradition as a Balinese to this and that's even older than European to distance in perpetuity. There certainly is Chinese history of puppetry. There's an Indian Oh double history of puppetry that the world over from whatever I know off the air there it's always preceded by a puppet theater in almost any form of theatre that I know of. So it's one of the earliest forms of it is definitely one of the earliest forms of theatre yes. When you go back to the earliest thinking and puppetry or perhaps some of the more recent puppetry
was there a tradition of showing forms of violence in puppetry or thinking of Punch and Judy Oh yeah. Yeah well a person's duty is anti-establishment show per se. It marks about any institution you can think of that it deals with in forms of its straightforward characters of cops and housewives and husbands and neighbors and hangmen and devils and angels they all have to stand being made fun of in that show. So I would say it's a mocking mirror of society at all it is a really powerful anti social very critical very anti-establishment show would it be would it be
safe to say that one of the end during one of the and the more lasting things about puppetry is that it's been seeking are searching for enduring qualities in mankind. How did you and how would you feel as if you explain the existence of Prince and Julie of their constant revitalisation that that so experiences because wait now I know of a handful of good pensions really people who are women pensions really hasn't been practiced in America much at all from what I know. But right now pensions really seems to be very interesting again and it isn't so that holds up the banner of humanity so to speak well of the permanent values but rather holds up the banner of a young permanent value a school of values that should be permanently hit on the head. And do you think that one of the more
strong qualities of proper tearing that it is to entertain. It wouldn't be fair to say that my main entertainment what is entertainment. It's the tickle that goes along with music or speech or any form of address to a public. But it's it's a very specialized doesn't really say much about performing of any sort. No that would be unfair to say the public shows more entertainment than instruction or enlightenment education. I wonder though if people come to puppet shows more to be entertained or more to be educational. That is simply because people are so used and so are brought up to think of puppetry as being for
babies and small children. There's no other concept in this country at least about proper twee so people didn't really have a chance to think of puppetry otherwise. When you look into other cultures such as Japanese or Balinese cultures was their way of having a form of property that is strictly. The grand old epically telling off the religious center road stories. That certainly has nothing to do with this kid's entertainment. Well moving ahead a little bit. Peter I understand that the puppet program as you presented or as your first first responded in New York in 1962 is that right. Yeah sort of sort of. And then you move from New York to Vermont and was there any particular reason for that.
There was an invitation from God of colors to be the theater and residence. It's mostly a particular reason for us to move. It gave us a chance to move out of New York and move to a moment. I see you haven't ever regretted it since. When you came to Vermont did you go directly to Goddard. Yeah and then you went from we stayed there for four years. You stated Goddard invoke God for four years that is to be had oversee it of the the property is lived on it's got it let us use during that time and people for whom we traveled to be did everything that we would have done if we would have lived on our own but we even supported by God to the extent that they made it possible for us to live and that was tempted can there at that time.
You remember no it was still even the spoonbill who was the president at that time. I see I have a question that's probably a very simple one to answer but something I've wondered about why is it called the bread and puppet theater. What how does the bread get into it. Well because all the puppets are billed from bread. Everything is about sourdough salad who is the philosophy of honesty into whatever answers the abyss. It's simple. Will older than puppetry tradition bread baking giving out bread I make bread and make lots of bread like sourdough bread. I like to give it out to people. That's a much more practical answer than I was thinking of Peter because I was thinking that maybe it was because bread was the staff of life and you saw it
as something very basic you know or something like that. I leave this explaining and interpret being to you or to anybody who wishes to do so. OK. What part if any Peter does religion play and the whole the overall concept of the bread and puppet theater or does it play a part. I don't know of anybody in the theater who belongs to any particular religion so I wouldn't be fair to say that we have anything to do with us or lives and we are not missionize for any religion we don't belong to any religious society only club or any movement. So why do you call to traditionally religion we would have to say no we are not religious and we have no such mission. But if you understand religion as what it means and what the word itself we LEDs then you would
possibly allow yourself to interpret shows that we do as being religious and leg again to leave that up to you because I'm not somebody who wants to manipulate you and persuade you to any specific belief. But I'm sure that the values in poetry music are quite similar to the values that you find in Buddhism. In the Islam in the Christian religion. So I don't see such a definition. There's a permanent one two on one side talk about religion and on the other side of not but areas you wouldn't possibly say a moral connection or a moral feeling and most of the plays that you do.
I'm not sure of that but I wouldn't say that I think we have souls that have very specific purposes. We have shows that have social issues in the episodes that ever that are political by nature or that have messages that they want to bring across. And I would think that such shows ever use a moral approach when to achieve something. But I would not like to limit what we do to just that. That would not be true if you take a piece of music just come to play and make it into a show that doesn't mean that we're normalizing the way these composers moralised Mr music we do less than that by interpreting them. So we don't particularly have their religiosity that
you expect in one bar. You didn't for instance stay with a certain kind of theme or feel put a strong feeling about the Vietnam War into the puppetry that you were doing at that time. You know you were very involved in being upset about the war and saying out as loud and as big and convincing as we could that we were against that war. And we tried to persuade and we tried to appeal and we tried to do it in an unconventional way and that we did it in the street instead of in the theater. So that was moralizing I would think. So you actually took your message to the street and the people actually saw this being acted out right in the streets. You know a lot of it.
Did that have a different effect from them coming into a building. Do you think. But when you perform in a building you know by the nature of being inside you call your audience to come to you. So you buy that do something very different than when you step outside and you go to your audience to perform in the street is mainly that that you do not invite people to come but you step in front of people in their walk of life and wherever they are and address them right there it seems to me it would be more difficult to be on the street. It is it's more difficult but it's also a good lesson for people who have to dress in public and you have to say something and
it surely is a great old form of dressing to do it in the street. Do you get how do you get most of your funds are there from your presentations. Yeah you don't get a grants or anything like that. Well hardly ever. It's very little and you know by willing to make a living on grants. We have a philosophy of that we want to make a living on what we do which is our presentations. When you say our Do you consider that that's just your immediate family or do you feel that there's a family of entertainers and people who sort of have come you know there's a hardcore group of privateers who I'm very close to me you worked with me for many years and when I say I was suddenly include them I mean them. Is this mostly people who are living here in Vermont or are they from out of so yeah most of them live in Vermont a few of
them don't. Some of them live in New York and just work with us in the summer during the summer months this time than a lot of these hard core pop peers are not involved in every project they do but they take out time of whatever other projects they are involved in and work together here on the phone. Are they mostly theater people or are some of them more recent I don't know anybody hardly anybody is from the theater background. Most people there's loudest musicians but the butler. Music is a big part of puppetry. Yeah how do I get it you know how do you or do you actually perform on instruments live or do you have taped music or how do you how did you know we've had to really put on the song music we do is life music actually our music we do is like music either it's homebrew Pasley homebuilt self-built and self-invented instruments or it is
traditional compositions anything from Buckland to fiddling mountain style. But have you whatever's available pretty much in the group will be somehow used for puppet shows. Do you find that classical music lends itself more to puppetry or you're bringing some modern. I wouldn't look at it that way that I say that classical music lends itself easier to puppetry it's more that if there's a convincing piece of music and if the musicians are available and missed twice that's a thing as to put it into our terms making it into a story then. That process begins that working together which ends up as so like Bach cantata 140 all
other movies there are many other pieces that we have come of this year we have worked on a German poet Vogelstein together with a group from New York music for a while who specializes in medieval instrument music vocal music and so now in some cases do you create that story as you call it right from beginning to end I mean you actually script the whole thing yourself. Well that is the job of theirs. This is part of our puppetry that we create that story that we find that can tardo or that piece of music is story buys and to then find it do it. What is the source of most of the themes of your programs. Or is there a source or is it purely a creative thing that comes out of the music or
you know is there some some kind of a source that you feel that you go to a great deal of the time to to have a theme for the program. Well there will be I want to categorize. To bring that down to some kind of common denominator because that is just very different as every different piece. But the theme is to tell people a story that makes sense. And if you feel that a Bach cantata can do that and be usable can touch it and if we feel that its going fairytale or if we feel its newspaper story you know if its a story that I write myself it does not matter. There is no common denominator for what persuades us to tell the story. Peter speaking of the way that things happened when I came up here
today I saw you with a gouge and you were working on a piece of mace a night you were guarding it out and you know and it looked like to me like you're sculpting something practically with that. And I just wonder are is there some way that you feel there was an artistic influence in your life when you were very young. Did it come from your parents or whatever because you certainly have it seems to me Ali. The feelings of a sculptor with the way that you go about creating things. Well I was brought up as a sculptor. And I don't feel like a sculptor I feel like a prop. You know it's a field. Sculpture has made use of as a sculptor you know somebody who believes in that making per se. And as a puppet you create these things for a purpose for the purpose of devising your audience in a specific way.
So your sculpture becomes useful such as it was useful was an art form that was really important in our culture and the specific. Purpose of appealing and appealing and of siding the right spirits for the right events. So that was very important in European culture and in the codes of all cultures around the world that I know of. And in that sense all art from civil engineer only go back to sets purposeful spiritual endeavors. Do you see yourself as as much of a realist or perhaps a realist and so far as of as Pollini I think sees himself as a realist. Do you feel that you're maybe a new your realist in the way that you try to have your arctics pression expressed people as
individuals or that kind of thing. Let him know. Yes a movie at least that's what we're in a movie. But I don't even know what that means. Well of course I don't know what it means either but I just wonder sometimes when you know through trying to find just the right face or just the right thing to express a certain thing if it doesn't become so. So unlike the ordinary that it really does the thing if you know what I mean. I mean flowing you will pick a face some time you know that will just that's the only face you'll ever see like that. And yet you know that it's he found it somewhere in a crowd that kind of thing. Well that comparison is a bit too far fetched. I don't I don't know for us to say that what we
do is we're listing would be true in that we don't have a lot of real or abstract images limping around among the things that you see as still. But wouldn't be right on the other hand because a lot of the creatures that we have a demon gods or spirits are strange creatures fairies and what have you that you won't easily find in the street. So Realistic Yes in respect to their faces and hands and recognizable human features a lot and quite a deal Rio if you look closer today what's in there in those faces. They're very often
out of this world. So I don't know if that fits into their terminology. I think we will. Yeah I think so. Let me ask you a question if I may. Why are some of them so big so huge is that in the German tradition or you know they asked last year they asked the public and one of the public hears markdown however question and he said why not. And I think that's pretty much what it is. It's one of the great press abilities of puppetry to make an important thing small and important things big in the theatre you don't have those possibilities but in public theater you virtually are compelled to use size as one of the major expressions so to speak. With the size of the finger and the size of the eye and the size of the
face and the expression of it. So if it calls for a mood that's that's Jayanta that's huge in mood. You know if you say Uncle fatso he's big and if you say little people you make him little and then you don't have to say little people around him anymore but you just establish that relationship between an uncle fatso and some little people by that choice of size. So it becomes a visual of it but there is a virtual language that is as clear as the birds in the language. If you were to think in terms of an overall philosophy of puppetry or maybe you can't maybe you know want to are what the Germans call a belt on channel if you were to think in terms of this whole broad you know overall philosophic outlook. Would there be something that puppetry would fall into.
My only wonder I ask publicly is good for all. That's what I sense in asking there. And I guess we don't know that over there and I feel that probably via baking so much bread because we are not so sure of what publicly is good for all. But I think that there is a great need for communal forms of understandable of a simple kind of spirituality that is not derived from existing work. Modern religions philosophies that are carried by mass media and newspapers. But that is simpler more
accessible more like the wheeled stuff that people have in themselves and to me it seems the public areas such a form giving force for such a Laden not really existing spirit to Amity that might exist. So the purpose of puppetry the thought is to find said student from to this excess who moved to the Louds community of these all of us happy as a people. And Oh Peter I want to thank you very much for Vermont Public Radio for having us in your home and speaking to us today. You know good bunkum.
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- Frank Anthony speaks with Peter Schumann, founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont about his childhood in Germany and some of the history of puppetry. Schumann also discusses the influences of his work and his experiences living and working in Vermont.
- "Legendry is a show that features interviews with, readings by, and performances by artists, activists, authors, and others."
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Announcer: Robinson, Steve
Guest: Schumann, Peter, 1934-
Host: Anthony, Frank
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Vermont Public Radio - WVPR
Identifier: P8468 (VPR)
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- Chicago: “Legendry; Interview with Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater,” 1979-03-03, Vermont Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 13, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-211-418kq334.
- MLA: “Legendry; Interview with Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater.” 1979-03-03. Vermont Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 13, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-211-418kq334>.
- APA: Legendry; Interview with Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater. Boston, MA: Vermont Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-211-418kq334