MIDDLEBURY — For 50 years, Bread and Puppet Theater has mixed puppetry and politics to comment on the issues of the day.
The troupe will arrive in Middlebury on Wednesday for a performance at Riverfront Park at the Marble Works — one of the few Vermont shows taking place this summer outside Bread and Puppet’s regular home in Glover.
This season, Bread and Puppet will once again celebrate its 50th anniversary with a staging of “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus,” a new show in the tradition of the circuses the group first began performing in 1970 at Plainfield’s Goddard College.
Known for its iconic papier-mâché puppets, raucous brass band and famous sourdough rye bread, Bread and Puppet performances are colorful spectacles that draw on circus tropes and feature more than a dozen acts that vary in mood and form.
“It’s a real old-style, traveling circus where we come all together in the bus — all the puppets and all the people — and we unload, we set up our curtain, we set up the rings and the bus becomes part of the set. We perform right there,” said puppeteer Josh Krugman.
Krugman said it’s an “apt time” to return to original “Domestic Resurrection Circus” title.
“I think, from the beginning, there’s been a really strong critique of capitalism, of U.S. imperial adventurism and abuses of human rights abroad,” he said.
Krugman noted one song featured this season celebrates Óscar Romero, a Salvadoran Roman Catholic archbishop killed by U.S.-backed paramilitary forces in 1980 during the El Salvadoran civil conflict. Romero was recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2018.
“We have a Salvadoran company member who brought a beautiful song that celebrates (Romero) and the fact that he could be killed, but his message of social and economic justice will live on,” he said.
Krugman added that performances also draws attention to how Vermont industries are connected to and affected by what he called “capitalist consolidation and exploitation.” Along the way, he said, the show will lift the voices of those who are impacted by it, like Vermont’s migrant dairy worker population.
In a news release, Bread and Puppet Director Peter Schumann said the show is “in response to our totally unresurrected capitalist situation, not only the hundreds of thousands of unnecessarily sacrificed pandemic victims but our culture’s unwillingness to recognize Mother Earth’s revolt against our civilization. Since we earthlings do not live up to our earthling obligations, we need resurrection circuses to yell against our own stupidity.”
Those who miss Wednesday’s show can catch Bread and Puppet every Saturday and Sunday in Glover until Aug 29.
The troupe also will perform in Putney on Aug. 28 and return to Middlebury on Sept. 3, before heading out on its “Little Big Tour” of the Northeast.
Despite the pandemic, puppeteer Amelia Castillo reported that Bread and Puppet was able to stage a summer season last year, holding three outdoor performances a week.
“Because we’re used to doing our shows outside anyway, it wasn’t such a huge change from what we already had been doing. The biggest change was really the audience size,” she said, noting that crowds are capped at 150 people per show.
Castillo said they took the lessons they learned at those shows on the road for a limited tour of New England.
“It was kind of a different style of socially distanced touring,” she said, explaining that performers camped outside for the duration of the tour rather than staying in people’s houses as they usually do.
“We pride ourselves on our flexibility. We’re a low-flying, seat-of-the-pants operation, but we’re very maneuverable,” said Krugman.
Lisa Mitchell, executive director of Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, which will host the performance, said in an email that people “come out in droves” for Bread and Puppet shows, noting around 500 people attended a 2019 performance.
She explained that her organization learned how to hold shows during the pandemic by following Bread and Puppet’s model.
“Bread & Puppet was key to Town Hall Theater’s pandemic pivot in 2020,” she wrote. “The troupe worked closely with a puppeteer who was also an ER nurse to develop its COVID-safety protocols. Their road map for socially distanced outdoor performances and clear communications regarding audience expectations taught THT what was possible for future shows.”
According to Mitchell, last summer’s Bread and Puppet show in Middlebury sold out all 150 of its tickets in 24 hours, prompting THT to add a second show, which also sold out.
Mitchell added that the Evolution Kitchen food truck also will be on hand Wednesday selling tacos and tamales prepared by Viva El Sabor, a culinary collective of chefs, most of whom are the wives of migrant farm workers in Addison County.
Gates open for Wednesday’s Bread and Puppet performance of “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” at 5 p.m. The show starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit townhalltheater.org or call 382-9222.