The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1963 by Peter Schumann, who ran the operation for decades together with his wife Elka Schumann (1935–2021).

a gentleman with a white beard and clad in jeans and a blue sweater gestures toward people out of view behind the photographer
Garrett MacLean, Peter Schumann directs the company during rehearsals in Glover, VT, 2022

Besides rod-puppet and hand puppet shows for children, the concerns of the first productions were rents, rats, police, and other problems of the neighborhood. More complex theater pieces followed, in which sculpture, music, dance and language were equal partners. The puppets grew bigger and bigger. Annual presentations for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Memorial Day often included children and adults from the community as participants. Many performances were done in the street. During the Vietnam War, Bread and Puppet staged block-long processions and pageants involving hundreds of people, and it became an important expression of anti-war protest.

In 1970 Bread and Puppet relocated from New York to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont and four years later it moved to a farm in Glover in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where it has remained for the past fifty years and become a much-loved and nationally-recognized theatrical group based in the Green Mountain State. The 140-year old hay barn on the farm was transformed into a museum for veteran puppets.

Today the organization—one of the oldest, nonprofit, political theatre companies in the country—makes its income from touring new and old productions both on the American continent and abroad, and from sales of Bread and Puppet Press posters and publications. The traveling puppet shows range from tightly composed theater pieces presented by members of the company to extensive outdoor pageants which require the participation of many volunteers. Bread and Puppet’s productions are characterized by large-scale, rustic masks and puppets; lively scripts that straddle the line between arts and activism; and of course, its signature homemade sourdough rye bread, shared with artists and audiences at the close of each show.

players dressed primarily in yellow wear large full-head lion masks and prowl on stage
Garrett MacLean, Bread and Puppet Theater perform a scene from their Apocalypse Defiance Circus in Saxophone, NC, 2022

As long ago as 1991 the Christian A. Johnson Memorial Gallery, the predecessor to the Middlebury College Museum of Art, celebrated Bread and Puppet Theater, as part of its Vermont Bicentennial exhibition, Celebrating Vermont: Myths and Realities. Twenty-three years later, we’re once again celebrating Bread and Puppet with this exhibit of photographs by Garrett McClean (Middlebury College, Class of 1999), a professional photographer who traveled with the company for more than three months in the summer of 2022. This exhibit, which coincides with both Peter Schumann’s 90th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the theater group performing in Glover, Vermont, will also include several of the over life-size puppets used in previous performances, as well as various posters and banners produced over the years by the Bread and Puppet Press.