Inside Bread and Puppet Theater as Founder Peter Schumann, 89, Contemplates His Final Act

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Published August 30, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

Peter Schumann sat in a wobbly plastic chair, a gin and tonic in one hand and a cigar in the other, crossing and recrossing his legs. The 89-year-old founder and director of Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover wanted to see acts in progress for his troupe’s first circus of the season, just three days away. The puppeteers were still scrambling to come up with ideas, and he was not thrilled.

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It was a warm afternoon in July, and I had come to watch the rehearsal in the backyard of the 19th-century farmhouse that serves as the nucleus of life at Bread and Puppet, a theater company that, for the past 60 years, has turned scraps of cardboard, used bedsheets and other debris into political performance art. “Who wants to be on deck? Maybe Cloud Orchestra?” one of the puppeteers suggested. Several people were carrying cardboard cumulus clouds to one side of the yard. Another small group was singing a dirgelike rendition of “Au Clair de la Lune.” Schumann was not interested in hearing who was on deck. He wanted them to start. “Go, go, go, go!” he shouted in his thick, rough German accent. “Do it!”

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