Puppet Regime on campus

Getting 50 brown paper grocery bags wasn’t hard. Rounding up 400 bricks was simple. But when Conference Operations secretary Pam Montgomery was asked to round up 15 ten foot bamboo poles, she was at a loss.

“My first thought was ‘how am I going to get these?’” Montgomery said. “UPS couldn’t deliver them because they were too long, so they had to be brought in by freight.”

These were just some of the materials requested by Bread and Puppet Theater, a performance art group that has been at Grinnell since Monday. The company also requested 30 lbs. of rye berries, seven colors of paint and a plethora of sheets, curtains and cardboard. Five members of the theater have been working with close to 30 Grinnell students to transform these materials into larger-than-life props for the Sept.19 performance on Mac Field.

It’s fitting that Grinnellians are working with the nationally-recognized theater. Grinnell’s Director of Conference Operations Rachel Bly noted that the school and the theater have a lot in common, one of the reasons she wanted to book them.

“The theater’s approach to performance art melds well with Grinnell’s commitment to social-justice,” Bly said.

The two institutions share other similarities. Besides both being located in out the way places (the theater resides on a farm in rural Vermont), they share a commitment to artistic expression and building community. Also, like Grinnell, the theater has a history of political protest.

The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1962 in New York’s Lower East Side by Silesian sculptor and choreographer Peter Schumann. During its first simple productions the focus was on “rents, rats and police.” As their productions generated more interest, the theater pieces became more complex, and dance, music and sculpture were all incorporated.

In 1970 the theater relocated to Vermont, first to Goddard College and then to a farm near the small town of Glover. Their concerns have broadened over time. During the Vietnam War, Bread and Puppet Theater staged performance-protests that encompassed hundreds of people. In anticipation of the 1982 United Nations Disarmament Session, Bread and Puppet Theater led a massive nuclear freeze parade in New York which was later characterized by the New York Times as, “one of the most spectacular pieces of public theater the city has ever seen.”

The theater has brought their own causes to Grinnell, but the show on Monday will be a reflection of student’s unique concerns. Claire Lowe ’14 has been working with the theater all week.

“On the first day we all got together and talked about what issues Grinnell cares about,” Lowe said. “From there we actually began designing the show.”

This Monday, the collaborative efforts between the theater and the college will be exhibited at 7:30 p.m. on MacEachron Field.

“It’s going to be fairly epic,” Lowe said. “No one at Grinnell has really experienced this type of thing before.”