View of the Circus Field from the hillside.
Space between the buses is used for stage managing acts
Photo: Matt Palo
The Everything and Everywhere Dance Circus was the name of the Sunday Circuses that we performed each week. At Bread and Puppet, a dance can be a very abstract thing. I was in a variety of acts that included being one of many drones that couldn't find a single sheep, running around cawing and imitating a bird in the landscape before wind turbines, gently rocking back and forth a large piece of reinforced cardboard painted to look like grain while following a massive group of lions singing Italian opera, waving tree branches in the air and rhythmically imitating sawing, tossing, and gathering them- then breaking them and lying in childs pose while waiting for a group of ugly monsters to stop promoting politicians so that I could reveal ficticious statistics about deforestation, and a spasmodic dance of thrashing and rolling on the ground to imitate someone attempting to sleep while being surrounded by windmills. Each week people from the community would arrive to participate in the different acts. I really enjoyed teaching people the acts that in which I was involved, and also found myself doing a lot of stage managing- which is a role that I'm very comfortable with due to experiences working at Black Cherry managing kids in theater production.
|Peter Schumann getting into his stilts|
My favorite part of each week was when Peter got up on to the circus bus in order to get into his really tall stilts for the Circus finale. I think that seeing him was an amazing site because of how physically strong he is and how much fun he's always having. We worked pretty hard to get the acts together, but it was often that things would be changed. They could be changed, combined or cut all together at any point up to the performance- so things were always morphing. Peter had met with us at the beginning of each week to discuss the circus an pageant- what worked, what didn't work... and his idea was that he wanted total chaos. Most of his complaints were that it was too fluid. He wanted more acts- toppling over one another- interrupting eachother... Everything had to be shortened and changed, and new acts were made and incorporated each week.
|Photo: Cynthia Ene|
|Photo: Cynthia Ene|
Scenes from several circuses over the weeks in July.
|Photo by long time puppeteer Mark Dannenhauer|
Casualty Act (Lions/Sheep/Grain)
This act began as 3 completely separate acts that were combined. By the end, it became a Casualty Act- which is something that happens in every circus, every year since the war in Afghanistan started in 2001. It began with the sheep slowly descending down the slope of the circus field amphitheater during the preceding act. As the sheep enter into the circus ring, the lions entered at the same time from behind the bus and the grain followed. The 2-person foreground lions were slowly moving to an Italian Opera sung by walking lions behind them. Following the lions are the grain- a wall of yellow grain painted on large sheets of cardboard that slowly rocked back and forth. The grain moved to center stage and continued rocking in time, until a chime sounded. The grain parted and someone walked forward with a sign showing the current casualty numbers of Afghan Civilians and Coalition Troops in Operation Enduring Freedom as wheat with faces rise in the background. The chime sounds again, and the sign disappears- the wheat closes and rocks, then slowly leaves the stage as the lions and sheep mix with one another and head backstage. In addition to acting in our last performance, I was the stage manager for the grain- I repaired puppets, updated the casualty sign, and trained community volunteers the act so they could participate.
|4 different acts become one: The drama of the pig-faced Vermont Tarsands engulfing dancing alligators and turkeys at a final rehearsal. The week before it was chickens, and the week before that - it had included dancing pigs and a sleeping farmer|
The Pageant of the Possibilitarians
This year's Pageant took place on the beautiful rolling hills to the north of the circus field. The intent was to catch the glowing light of the late afternoon sun. Each crest of a hill became it's own stage where activities would happen. Each group was its own set of actions and there were pauses in action so the audience could shift their focus to other areas. Groups would join up with one another and then there was one final group action. In contrast to the circus that came just before, the Pageant was mostly very slow with predominantly black, white, and grey tones.
|The second set of fallers in the foreground appear,|
just as the first set of fallers reach their destination.
|Holy Nobody and his family joins the horses and the riders.|
They leave together.
|Heads begin to roll West to East across the hillsides.|
|...more and more.|
| Mother Earth appears over the hillside, advancing forward to catch the rolling heads in her embrace.|
Photo: Elmogin Huang
A man says goodbye to his mother.
In New York, Bread and Puppet had been asked to create a show from the grieving mothers of Puerto Rican men that had died fighting in the Vietnam War. This was a serious constant issue where there was an extremely high percent of these men who had all died fighting, possible having been sent into more dangerous places than most. This piece was revisited and performed after our second Pageant by Massimo Schuster and several Bread and Puppet company members. Massimo is a pretty incredible person and a long time member who now lives in Italy and has a company there. He was president of UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette) in 2004-08. I've seen the books published of his beautiful photographic work of the Bread and Puppet museum. I didn't know all that when we were hanging out though- he seemed to really enjoy giving me a little ribbing here and there- and as no surprise to people who know me- I dished it right back. He had a really nice group of French filmmakers following him during his 2 week visit. They are making a documentary about him and his influences and are traveling to 3 other countries to tell his story. They're looking for a producer so if you know of anyone, seriously let me know.
|Photo: Massimo Schuster|
"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds"– these were the first words out of J. Robert Oppenheimer's mouth as he saw his handiwork blossom over the New Mexico desert, in 1945, at the dawn of the nuclear age. He was quoting the Bhagavad-Gita. Peter Schumann- inspired by these words, led us into an exploration "...for those applying for citizenship in the Shattered World." for our last Friday night show of the internship, July 27th in the Dirt Floor Theater known as the Paper Mache Cathedral. It was a slow, very heavy and dark show. The environment was created by hand-held and swung lighting, various junk whirling crashing or droning instruments, loosely scripted dance that included slow swaying movement with jarring fit-like interruptions, standing/falling/crawling in the dirt and distant or bored expressions, and occasional use of white puppets on a neutral background and neutral shrouded/shredded clothing. The only words were occasional readings of short excerpts by Peter and Rose that included the Bhagavad-Gita and naturalization forms. These interruptions helped to frame and chapterize our movements through the show.
This is Peter directing rehearsal for our last Friday night show on July 27th "The Shatterer of Worlds".
One of the main things I did in this show was to be what Peter called a string puller. My role was in manipulating the huge paper mache Bystanders that stood suspended from the ceiling by a rope and pulley rig. To Peter, even the act of pulling the rope became a performance to be included in the show. Although it was extremely light weight, I responded like I was moving sails on a ship in slow motion as the puppet would lean and rock forward and to the sides- finally lying down on the dirt floor of the theater- all the while dictating or responding to the movements of the actors. Our first show was okay, I think- we really did better in our rehearsals but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to explore this idea that Peter had. Several of the company members said that its a pretty rare opportunity to be along on the ride of Peter's creative process. For these shows, he usually knows exactly what it will be before any of us would be involved. It is bound to be a very intense piece and I would love to know how it ends up getting crafted from this point with the new group of interns.