Fifty years ago, give or take a few months, Bread and Puppet was born, a milestone which will be celebrated with a symposium at Boston College Saturday. As scholars know, distilling the essence of a political protest organization into an academic paper is a kind of art; as Bread and Puppet fans know, distilling political protest into art is a kind of magic.
Founded in New York in the early 1960s, the Bread and Puppet Theater embodies that decade’s spirit of creative protest. It has long occupied 20 pristine acres of northern Vermont. The area’s 19th-century farm roots are evident in the wooden outhouses in a meadow; adding to the whimsy are old, lovingly painted school buses sprinkled across the property in hidden glens and tree stands.
But it’s the property’s massive barn, used as a combination puppet warehouse and museum, that is the soul of Bread and Puppet. All the ghosts of social outrages past appear in the form of 50 years worth of ground-breaking papier mache puppetry in extra-large form. The upper floor is a cathedral in both size and spirit, where 20-foot-tall human faces watch from the shadows high in the rafters, where an old horse stall filled with devils nearly cackles, where black and white globes speak silently, where a large alligator on wheels waits patiently in the corner.
As the symposium approaches, participating writers can take advice from “Cheap Art Manifesto No. 4,” which is one of Bread and Puppet’s many posters: “Provoke the correct thought at the right moment.”