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At MassArt, Bread & Puppet Theater shows come with fresh-baked bread

The Arctic cold descending on Boston this weekend won’t deter Peter Schumann from firing up the outdoor brick oven he assembled on Friday. Then he will tend it for hours while baking the public free bread.

Schumann, founder and artistic director of Bread & Puppet Theater, has served freshly made bread after his troupe’s performances for 52 years. Saturday and Sunday, when the theater is putting on afternoon shows at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, will be no exception.

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“I’ve baked in 20 below,” said Schumann, 81, whose theater is based in Glover, in northeastern Vermont. On Thursday, the company began an 11-day stint as artists-in-residence at MassArt.

Bread & Puppet performs in a style of street theater that combines slapstick, political commentary, larger-than-life puppets made of papier-mâché and cardboard, masked characters, improvisational dance movement, and a brass band.

During the residency, MassArt students and community partners will collaborate with the troupe. The shows, which will run through Feb. 21, are free; the public can also volunteer as puppeteers.

And the bread? It has its origins in the sourdough bread his family baked when he was growing up in Germany. Schumann’s family fled their home as World War II ended, and he recalls how they and other refugees would forage for grain and then bake bread together.

When he moved to the United States in 1961, he continued to bake the bread in traditional outdoor ovens, and when he founded his theater in 1963, he started baking it for audiences.

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“People stood in line half a mile long to get the bread,” Schumann recalled.

“I’ve baked in 20 below,” said Schumann, 81.
“I’ve baked in 20 below,” said Schumann, 81.Justin Saglio for the Boston Globe

The oven is also a tradition: Schumann often builds a temporary one outside venues where the theater performs. He gets a permit for the ovens, which can heat up to approximately 800 degrees. Several times, concerned police officers have called in the fire department to douse them.

On Friday, Schumann joined with several MassArt students and staff to assemble an oven in a campus courtyard from 400 bricks, ordered for him by Matthew Hinçman, an associate professor of sculpture. They cantilevered the bricks to form a closed space with a roof.

After about 40 minutes, the last brick was put in place. Schumann jumped on top of the oven and did a little jig.

“The last one!” he cried out. “We got it just right!”

Bread and Puppet will perform “The Overtakelessness Circus” at 3 p.m. on Feb. 13-14, Design and Media Center AtriumMassachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston; recommended for all ages. They will perform “The Seditious Conspiracy Theater Presents: A Monument to the Political Prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera,” at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 17-20 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 21, Tower AuditoriumMassachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston; recommended for ages 10 and up.


David Filipov can be reached at David.Filipov@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidfilipov.