Sunday, 9 December 2007
I'll be looking forward to it.
BREAK A LEG!
Friday, 7 December 2007
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Monday, 26 November 2007
- Narrator: Emily
- Terrorist: Rob
- Soldier: Marcus
- Terror Brigade: Annie, Catrin, Freya
- Iraqi Women: Laura, Carmen, Kerry
- Band: Lou, Lia, Alice, Emily, Rosana. Emma
- Main body of cast: Jolie, Jessica, Marika, Diana, Nia, Charlie, Georgia, Sheryl, Charlotte
All in all it was a really successful session and was also very productive, its amazing how quickly ideas can be establishes practically and also how well the group is working together.
Entrance with flags and banners, accompanied by ‘parade’ music and vocal shouts, chants etc…Leads into Narrator’s opening speech as ‘circus’ semi circle performance space is established.
Market scene, a fish monger is selling ‘cardboard’ fish to people. The ‘corporate/government’ puppets enter and ‘scare’ the people with large representation of Media/Threat of terrorism (Large TV with headlines across it?). The Fish are turned around and become guns.
One member of the ‘people’ comes forward; he is wearing a puppet head which sets him apart from the rest. The corporate/government men proceed to brainwash him – Remove Brain, wash in bath etc… He becomes an armed soldier.
Whack a Terrorist
He is handed a large comical hammer and ‘game show’ scene begins. It is instigated or hosted by the Narrator. A Terrorist is brought in and the ‘soldier’ attempts to ‘whack’ him as he avoids the hammer – all done in very comical style. When unsuccessful, the crowd begins to chase him, this leads us into…
Terrorist is chased around, while ‘Bear Hunt’ song is incorporated into scene. As this is happening, the white banner is advancing and dividing the space slowly. The terrorist finally escapes behind the white ‘screen’.
A missile is handed to the people by the corporate/government; it is slowly transferred from person to person, possibly through an array of large puppet hands. The Missile is tossed or placed over the other side of the banner.
Mourning Iraqi women
Shift in mood from festivity to somberness. Strange violin music begins and ‘Iraqi women’ complete with puppet heads emerge into the destruction caused by the missile. They proceed to covey slow, sad mourning through silent movement.
Their movement gradually builds up and the terrorist enters. He is surrounded by the women who appear to plead with him and suffer at his feet. He then moves forward, at the same time the ‘Western soldier also comes forward on the other side of the banner. Both stand as if ready to fight. Violin music possibly carries on, maybe gets louder and builds up.
The banner is brought over the two men and held in front of them. The banner contains a quote or the chosen title to reinforce meaning in the performance. For example: For the profit of few, at the cost of many.
Friday, 23 November 2007
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Did you present a clear message about a topic of global significance?
Did you convincingly use the methods and techniques of Bread and Puppet? Did you maintain a balance between festivity and sombreness?
Monday, 12 November 2007
Even more important if you haven't already do look at How to Turn Distress into Success (http://blip.tv/file/300997) - it will be very useful for the work you are doing on your piece in thinking about dramatic structure, use of music and the physical objects (masks, puppets, props etc) that go into Bread and Puppet's work.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Peattie, Sara and the Puppeteer’s Cooperative. 68 Ways to Make Really Big Puppets.Glover, VT: Bread and Puppet Press; St. Johnsbury, VT: Troll Press, 1997. 10 pp., ill.Instructions for simple puppets, animals, dragons, giant puppets, hoop and cloth puppets.
This booklet is available online at http://www.gis.net/~puppetco/
I've added this as a link to the side of the webpage. Well worth looking at as preparation
Monday, 5 November 2007
To begin with Cheryl announced we had 10 minutes to discuss or put forward our own views on what topic we wanted to base our performance on. We were given a choice of three current affairs: Globalisation, Climate change and The War and Terror. The discussion was opened by Lou who expressed her reservations about choosing ‘The war on terror’. She felt it was a topic that we didn’t know enough about, and was a subject that may require research into the whole history of the Middle East. This statement was more or less the core of our ‘debate’. Laura then told the class that she had studied this ‘issue’ at A-level and was therefore fairly knowledgeable already and this would be of great value to the production. Alice then admitted that it would be easier to take on Climate change but that the war on terror was currently more relevant. Nia then made a very important point, she reminded the group that the war on terror was an extremely broad topic and it would be better if we specified or focused on a certain aspect of this broad theme. Examples were given such as ‘Guantanamo Bay’ and the theme of torture as a product of the war on terror. I feel that even though many of us may not know a lot about the war on terror as Georgia commented, we should take this opportunity to educate ourselves about such an important issue. This reminded me of the whole concept of bread and puppet – educating and informing people about the important issues in our world today. Matthew then voiced his preference and interest in focusing on globalisation. He made it much more relevant to our current community by connecting it to Egham and the corporate food industry’s (e.g. Dominos) monopoly of the food market, which made smaller businesses suffer. This topic was discussed further but the conversation was eventually brought back to the theme of the war on terror. Laura suggested that we use our performance to inform people about what’s going on. Or maybe use it as a form of protest against the general ignorance found in our society. Rob also gave some ideas about the style of the performance, which signalled the move to more concrete ideas. He suggested we create something comical and satirical, maybe highlighting the media’s stereotypical presentation of this topic. Cheryl then brought the conversation to a close, and gave those who hadn’t spoken a chance to voice their opinions. Lou then expressed that even though she would rather do climate change, she was willing to accept the topic of ‘war on terror’ without any reservations. Cheryl then suggested a vote through a show of hands and it was decided that we would base out final performance on ‘The War on Terror’. The discussion carried on from there with ideas surrounding ‘The War on Terror’ expressed. One of the main ideas was that the whole concept of ‘The War on Terror’ is very recent, only beginning after 9/11. This makes it all the more relevant and immediate, which is an essential quality in the Bread and Puppet ideology.
The Next fifteen minutes were dedicated to discussing the creative process we are going to undertake as a group. We were basically trying to decide the next step after choosing our theme. Emily started out by highlighting the advantages of working in smaller groups: it can be more comfortable to share ideas and then these ideas can then be presented to the group as a whole. Laura supported this by commenting that smaller groups are better for focusing on the various aspects of the performance such as puppets, script, music etc… Cheryl also expressed reservations about the disadvantages of an ensemble piece, with the strong possibilities of conflicts arising easily. However Rob then reminded the group that the final piece was an ensemble piece and we needed to stay true to the ‘theatre group’ we were trying to recreate, including the creative process. Matthew then reminded the group of the ‘Nicaragua model’ of group work which had been discussing earlier. In the Bread and Puppet’s work in Nicaragua, various groups had formed naturally during the creative process, with each focusing on a different area. This was generally agreed on by the group to be the way forward. We also discussed whether a ‘director’ or as we put it a ‘Schumann’ type role should be allocated. After a lot of discussion we decided it would be better to have 3 or 4 people assigned to that role and also to depend on our ability to function as a group more. Matthew reminded as that it was too early to decide at this stage and we came to the general consensus to wait till after we had decided on a concrete idea to choose people to take this position. Jollie suggested that we go away and do some research over reading week and then come back and present it to the group as a ‘pitch’. After a lot of discussion we also felt that each member of the group should conduct their own research and also come back with some sort of practical vision as well as knowledge surrounding the issue. This information could then be developed as a group. So we finally decided that reading week should be used to gather general stimulus and develop personal ideas rather than rehearsal as we all would feel more comfortable beginning the creative process around a concrete idea. The group was also asked to think about various aspects: The audience, the performance space, images, puppets, words, songs etc… The 15 minutes was then brought to a close and a further 5 minutes given in order for people to express any reservations or concerns.
Some members expressed concerns about the smaller groups being fixed and would rather gain experience in all the various creative areas rather than be restricted to one. Concerns were raised about the location of the performance being outdoors during December, and the need for a back up plan if it rains etc… Although most people wanted to perform outdoors we decided we had to create a performance that would be adaptable indoors and keep in mind the limitations this creates. We also discussed the ‘Bread’ aspect of the performance which raised many issues concerning the ‘ethos’ of bread making within Bread and Puppet’s ideology. Many practical concerns about the bread making were also raised. The session was concluded with the unanimous decision to use reading week to research and develop ideas, the present them to the class next week and begin the ‘group’ creative process from there.
Personally I felt that the discussion was very successful and the group has become much more comfortable with each other as a result. I am really looking forward to what is to come.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
I also wanted to post my research as part of the puppet and mask making
group from the lesson on Monday.
Obviously the main criteria of the Bread and Puppet theatre is the
ethic of "cheap art". Their creations made from recyclable rubbish or
natural products that they come across.
Another main ethos of Bread and Puppet is that "from death comes life"
which reinforces the importance of the recycled materials they use. It
is also worth noting that many people have likened Peter Schumann’s
creative process to that of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster as he
makes them from raw elements. The puppets themselves are meant to be
very human in appearance or be reflective of human qualities which is
why sometimes only an ear or a nose will be used.
Bread and Puppet create many different types of characters as well as
using different styles and in a single summer can make hundreds of
puppets. They can include "gorgeous Vietnamese women masks, repulsive
butchers or suits, giant historical figures or gods, tiny table
puppets, cardboard cutouts, prophets, disciples, green men and gray
ladies" (Rehearsing With Gods, 82). They also make use of huge
processional puppets that will often take on a character role
explicitly linked directly to the themes of their piece of theatre.
They will also have "population puppets" which never stand alone yet
are used in conjunction with many others to create a defenceless and
faceless weak mass.
The making process itself is very simple. To begin, clay will be dug
from the riverbanks which will then have straw added to it. Following
on from that, sculptures will be created with plastic covering it on
top. They will then paper mache on top of that before being allowed to
dry. When dry they will be taken out of their moulds and painted with
an overcoat of white.
In our own making process during the lesson we adopted a similar
technique but instead of clay used a stuffed plastic bag as the means
of creating our sculpture before covering it in newspaper and paper
macheing the facial features onto the shapes to create specific facial
It is worth noting that in terms of deciding on the puppets we will
want to use during our own performance that we will first want to
consider the message and themes we want to address. From that discovery
we will then need to create puppets that act as visual (not conceptual)
metaphors for the piece and then work in groups to create and bring
these puppets to life.
Friday, 26 October 2007
The last few sessions have been more practical based than theoretical, so we took some time to focus more on the ideolgy of Bread and Puppet as a movement and think about it in critical terms, exploring its strengths and weaknesses. We started with the idea of the contradictions and limitations of the Bread and Puppet movement - Is its ideology and manifesto reflected rightfully through its performances over the years?
Firstly we discussed its relevance today - can we get beyond the nostalgia of the 60's 'movement'? Mathew asked the class wether we as a generation who never personally experienced the 60's had any nostalgic attachments to that era - what does that time represent to us? After many contributions, we reached some form of general consensus that we all had some form of sentimentality attached to the 60's but also felt that we could relate it to the world we lived in today. We talked about how to many of us the 60s represents a time of strong political change and upheaval, and the emergance of 'people power' in the form of protests, demonstarations etc... It was also a time of freedom and experimenting in art of all forms - of which bread and puppet is a product. We also disscussed how the Vietnam war was predominant in Bread and Puppet's work at that time and were able to link it to the Iraq war today. We were left with the question - Is the 'capability of change' experiened in the 60's and embraced by Bread and puppet still applicable today?
Monday, 22 October 2007
- music is a very important element in B and P theatre. P.Schuman uses marching bands, rumbas, brass bands, gongs, horns, plainsongs and sacred harp singing.
- We know that in B & P theatre, there is a real sense of community spirit as he ruses local volunteers as part of the singers andbrassband.
- Therefore, P.S. uses very simple material and sounds to create hisinstruments, commun to us all so we can relate to them.
Plainsongs, also known as plainchant, is a term that describes a style of singing of the church, liturgy in Europe, developed during the first millenium. Plainsong is monophonic (1 melody, no accompanying chords orinstruments). The principal types of plainsongs in the western part of Europe are of roman and gregorian styles.
Sacred harp singing:
SHS is part of the larger tradition of Shape note music: the notes are printed in special shapes that help the reader to identify them on the musical scale. Each forshape is connected to a particular syllable: fa,sol, la and mi. Each syllable exept for mi is assigned to two distinctnotes.
Source of information on Plainsong:
Sunday, 21 October 2007
Music (Sacred Harp Song, plainsong, jazz) ties to the ideas of:
-community –emphasis on music as music, not just careless background sounds
Authenticity of “experience”, live
-cheap art –production is an important factor
Sacred Harp Song
(refers to human voice = instrument given at birth)
-many songs based on these American traditional hymns and anthems
-4 part harmony
-spiritual, although not bound to any religion as such
-main book used: “The Sacred Harp”, updated since 1844, 500+ 4-part hymn repertory
-sung a cappella
- “Singings” = not performances!!
Procedure of a singing:
No separate seats for audiences
Each singing is unique, stands for itself, always a new group coming together
- hollow square
-1 voice part on each side (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)
-All face inwards
- see and hear each other
-visitors able to sit anywhere: no boundary to separate
-ideological: COMMUNAL, as is Bread and Puppet
-“shape note singing”
-note heads in 4 shapes
-helps in sight-reading
Jazz Music (eg. New Orleans Dixieland)
-common folk music elements, eg call-and-response
-individual interpretation every time!! (experience,live)
Personal experience of player
Interaction eg WITH AUDIENCE
Wikipedia: “product of democratic creativity” – whoever put it this way, makes us aware of connection with Bread and Puppet ideology of importance of community, unique experience.
Sacred Harp Song: http://fasola.org
“He Leadeth Me”, example of Sacred Harp song type of hymn, found at:
On youtube, several Sacred Harp singings’ videos.
Reading in Study Pack, especially “Christmas Story, 1962”
-German hymn in this found at:
Wikipedia: for New Orlean Dixieland jazz
Friday, 12 October 2007
Monday’s session opened with a mirror game. Initially split into pairs, it made us aware of each other and the space around us. One person would lead, creating shapes and using a variation in speed of their movements to induce and challenge the other partner to imitate them correctly. I enjoyed this exercise as it was quite an intimate one, which involved studying the other constantly to maintain a correct imitation, and therefore became a minor form of a trust exercise. Awareness and understanding was required in order for movements to be physically possible for the other to copy, for example, appreciating that your partner may not be able to imitate a split!
Then Nesreen asked us to mirror each other as a group of four, this posed as a challenge, but I believe this helped develop the idea of collective thought, which is vital in the process of theatre making.
This idea was then taken a step further as we were set a task of mirroring each other as a class. We relied heavily on one another to lead an action, and then to mirror that person collectively. I believe this was a valuable experience because there was no one leading figure, everyone took turns in creating an action. We relied heavily on our hearing and spatial awareness to achieve what we had set out to do; especially as we were lying on the floor for this task. For example, if someone sat up, you had to be aware of a distortion in the space you were in to recognise a changed position . Interestingly enough, I observed how people gained more confidence in creating an action independently, once we all had to close our eyes, while still performing the task. I believe this is because some people in our group feel intimidated by the dominating minority, and feel their creative contribution would'nt be appreciated. With everyone unaware of who was making the contribution, each idea was confidently introduced, heard and imitated.
After a lengthy discussion, which evaluated and discussed the previous exercise, Matthew then asked us to draw out our folder and look at ‘Guest Editorial: The Foot’ and gave us numbers, which corresponded to a picture in the cartoon strip on the first page, marked as page five in the booklet. We were given marker pens and paper, and were set to work copying a picture allocated to us. We pinned this to a flip chart, and then were given the option of auditioning for the part of the narrator, who is the main driving force and focal point in a script, which appears on page six. All played the part very well and we finally settled for a narrator, who led a chorus of men and women, in a short Bread and Puppet piece. As the majority of the words were sung, we were split into a chorus of altos and sopranos. I believe this was a valuable part of the session as it allowed us, as a group, to communicate to each other our vocal range, which then allowed us to segregate into smaller groups and discuss how to harmonise and vocally co-ordinate with the other groups in our class; once we were given certain words to sing. The Process was one of trial and error, with the group exploring different levels in volume, and the development of the music itself. Musically, everything was improvised by the narrator, to which the chorus, depending on the group you were in, would then imitate, exploring the different harmonies available which were most suited to the notes the narrator was singing. We then rehearsed the whole play together twice before we were then handed banners to take outside with us.
After looking over ‘The Foot’ in class and briefly performing it indoors, we decided to go outside on to the grass area in order to vary our use of performance space and see how the dynamics and atmosphere would change by altering the space in which we worked.
Before starting to put together an outdoor performance of ‘The Foot’, we played some brief games to motivate us in our new acting space and to inspire us with ideas for our performance. For the first game we separated into two equal length lines, and from parallel starting points we jogged forward and then around in a circular pattern with one line forming the outer circle and the other forming the inner circle, both lines running in opposite directions and completing one full circle before jogging back to our original line positions. This first attempt was rather unsuccessful and from this we decided that the line forming the outer circle should be longer than the line forming the inner circle, and so we repeated the game but with a difference in line lengths. This proved slightly more successful but problems did occur when the inner circle line tried to jog back to their original line position. So we then added another variation to the game which was for the outer circle to jog for three complete circles and then jog back to their original position, and the leader of the inner circle line would then lead their group to join on to the back of the outer circle line to form one single line. This added variation made the game much more successful and prevented the two lines from bumping into each other and causing each other to change the rhythm of the jogging. As we’d now completed the game successfully, we brought in the use of the sticks and repeated the game but this time whilst each holding a stick in the air and waving it like a flag.
I think this was a good initial game to play outside because it was firstly a fun way of getting us used to working in different surroundings, as there were several holes and hilly areas in the place in which we were working. I feel that it also helped to improve our communication skills as a group because together we had to discuss how we would adapt the game in order to make it more successful based on the circumstances under which we were working. We had to universally agree on each idea that was used and then put the ideas to the test to see if they would work or not. We also needed to evaluate each idea after putting it to the test and decide whether it had increased the success of the game, and if not how we could improve our ideas. It was also quite an inspirational game because as a group it seemed to give us several ideas which we could adapt and use in our outdoor performance of ‘The Foot’ and it also primarily got the group used to working with the poles and banners, which are used copiously in Bread and Puppet theatre.
The second game we played was similar to the first in that we still participated in two lines, but this time we returned to lines of equal length. The aim of the game was to run forwards with the two lines crossing diagonally, and so as a group we had to decide how we would carry out this task successfully. We decided that each person should be crossing in between two consecutive people from the other line and so put this theory to the test. Unfortunately people began to bump into each other and the proposed idea didn’t quite go to plan, so we changed the speed at which we ran, and decided to jog instead. This made the task a little easier, but still having problems we decided to start walking instead of jogging which turned out to be easier as it created a much better rhythm and pattern to the game and dramatically decreased the amount of times the lines bumped into each other. We then decided to vary the point at which the two lines crossed and so we repeated the game in the same way but instead we crossed at a point which was further away from our initial starting points. We found this made the task much easier and so were able to quicken our pace and rhythm at which we were travelling, and we also were able to repeat the game several times without stopping by having each line loop around one of the trees and then jogging back to the initial starting point and repeating the pattern again. Once feeling confident in the task, we again brought in the use of sticks and waved them above our heads as flags.
I feel that this game was good at increasing our spatial awareness and encouraged us to use our peripheral vision in order to keep a reasonable distance away from each other so that we didn’t bump into each other, but also to stay close enough together that we still resembled two lines and didn’t break the pattern or lose the rhythm of the game. Like the first game we played, it was also good at improving our communication skills and increasing our awareness of our surroundings, and again it was an inspirational game as we were able to adapt the game and use it in our performance of ‘The Foot’.
The use of sticks at the end of the second game inspired us to come up with a more creative ending to the game using the sticks, which consequently led to this being the way in which we decided to start our performance of ‘The Foot’. So to start our performance, we began in our original starting positions for the diagonal crossing game, except for two people who each held one side of the large banner and stood at the ‘crossing’ position at which both lines began to intercept each other. The two lines would now represent the chorus of men and women in the production; one line being the men, and the other the women. The leader of each line then led their line around one of the two trees at the front of the performance space and then back up towards our initial starting positions, but stopping half away so that the group formed two parallel lines facing each other. Each person was to be exactly facing someone from the opposite line so that they could hold their stick high in the air and cross it with the other person, forming a long archway, with the banner at the front. This created an interesting pathway which the narrator would use to enter the performance space, and so as the narrator walked past each pair, they would turn do a half turn, turning towards the audience, and bring the stick over their head to touch the floor, forming a Mexican wave effect.
I think this was an effective and creative use of choreography and props and was fitting to the genre of Bread and Puppet theatre, as Schumann’s artistic pedigree is often described as “a mixture of dance and visual art” and I think this entrance is visually attractive and compelling to watch rather than just entering the stage in a boring, uninventive manner. The way in which we moved in canon with each other and how we all moved in the same direction also added a dance-like quality to the piece which I think would make it more appealing to watch.
After the entrance of the narrator, each line grouped together on one side of the stage forming a large V shape fanning out towards the audience, with the banner situated centrally at the back and the men and women making up the sides and the narrator commanding the space in the middle. This seemed to be a good shape to form because it meant that everybody would be visible to the audience, and it also centralised the main large banner bringing focus onto it, and it also brought focus onto the narrator who is an important part of the production and is like the ringleader.
We then continued to act out ‘The Foot’ as we had done in class in doors, but we soon realised that there were some alterations we needed to make in order to adapt to our new surroundings and performance space. The main issue was that we needed to project the dialogue much more and so needed to increase the volume and strength of our voices. We also found that we needed to make our actions much bigger so that they were easily visible to everyone and so that each action could be understood clearly.
When we were working indoors we had a very limited amount of space and so were quite closely huddled together, but when we went outside this limit of space was no longer a big issue. We had a much larger performance space to work with and so could adapt our performance to this. This meant we could spread out much more which complimented the need to increase the size of our actions to make them easily visible as we had more space to do this, so avoiding the danger of hitting and injuring anyone. Working outside also meant that we had to be more aware of the space we were working in though, as when we were inside the performance space was very predictable i.e. square room and flat concrete floor. There were lots of pot holes and hilly areas outside as well as nettles and sticks which we needed to be constantly aware of so that we did not injure ourselves or anyone else. Although this also meant that the space was less controlled and so we could be freer in the space we were in, and so be more creative as we had a larger, more interesting space to work in and adapt to.
Working outdoors had many other advantages too. It allowed us to include much of the natural surroundings such as the use of the trees in the opening of our performance. I think an audience member would find it more appealing to watch a production which made interesting use of an outdoor performance space than one which takes place in a traditional performance space. Working outdoors also creates a less intense environment to work in for both the actor and the audience. From evaluating working both outdoors and indoors I found that I was personally much more relaxed when performing outdoors. I felt that I could be more creative whilst also being more aware of my surroundings, and working in a large outdoor space was much more inspiring and enjoyable to work in.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Sent: 10 October 2007 05:40
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Your class on Bread and Puppet
I was pleasantly surprised to find my blog on your class' reading list.
Though I did have my reasons for parting company with B&P and Peter Schumann, it seems the investigations you are encouraging your students to engage in could be of great value in their development as theatrical artists (it was for me.)
I hope to hear some of your students' reactions.
Tuesday, 9 October 2007
- Bread and Puppet Theatre: http://breadandpuppet.blogspot.com/
- Shunt: http://shunttheatre.blogspot.com/
- Trestle: http://trestletheatrecompany.blogspot.com/
- Improbable: http://improbable-theatre.blogspot.com/
- Tara Arts: http://tara-arts.blogspot.com/
- Forced Entertainment: http://forcedentertainment.wordpress.com/
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
As a preliminary to the main body of the Contemporary Theatre Making class, our class tutors Matthew Cohen and Nesreen Hussein began by asking for three volunteers to document and provide a full account of today’s class as well as citing the most relevant and interesting points that came up in our group discussions and practical work. Following on from this further, the blog writers would need to earmark the most useful things that could then be taken and developed along the way helping to create our final piece based on Bread and Puppet Theater.
Before we started our work the register was taken and as everyone’s name was called we were asked to say something about ourselves. Ranging from Emily’s “I’ve been told I smile a lot,” to Rob’s (prior to Marcus’ arrival in a female dominated class) “I’m a boy,” it was a fun and light way to break the ice and put pre-class nerves at ease quite quickly.
Matthew Cohen then proceeded to turn our attention towards our term focus; that of the theatre group Bread and Puppet. Asking if anyone had heard of them prior to the pre-reading we had to complete the general answer was no… Matthew and Nesreen told us their various reasons for being inspired to have Bread and Puppet as the group’s main stimulus.
Bread and Puppet is one of the most important theatre groups of the 20th century and have been running for over 45 years. They have had a huge influence not only in the USA but also the rest of the world and have a wide significance. Headed by Peter Schumann, the group deals highly with the different types of pictures theatre can create as well as the different modes of communal engagement.
In terms of their lasting impact there is an account of a seminal visit to England in which radicalisation of popular arts resulted. Elements of Bread and Puppet have also seeped into other elements of life such as protests where very often there will be large scale dolls symbolically carried down the procession.
Bread and Puppet itself is quite a traditional process where puppets are used to “political advocacy” to make direct statements about political states such as poverty, climate change etc.
Nesreen added further her own reasons for being a fan of the group citing the fact that to them “theatre is not treated as a commodity”. They do not perform for the selling of tickets or gaining of profit yet are more concerned with reaching those to whom theatre would not normally be accessible. They highlight global issues of concern whilst challenging modes of perception and how the audience views their work. By involving the audience they also encourage them to go to new spaces than they would normally choose.
Nesreen’s own interest was furthered by the notion of how can puppets and everyday objects can be animated and used to create a narrative. The idea that the puppets are not made to be beautiful and that the focus is more on the how and why of their creative process also came into discussion.
The talk was then opened to the group as we were asked to express our own initial feelings concerning Bread and Puppet.
Marieke commented that the approach seemed very idealistic and because of that it came across quite naïve in the process. Rob stated that the idea whilst being simplistic and at times silly also held a certain amount of power within it. Referring to “Plastic Surga-tron” the consensus was that despite it important meanings, it was portrayed in a fun and child-like manner.
Lou expressed some confusion however over the point of “The Diggers,” questioning whether it was there to make a point or to educate people. Charlotte picked up on what would appear to be a key theme when she said that a lot of the plays had a very “carnivalesque” theme to it using the 2005 production “The National Passion Play of the Correct Movement” as her specific example.
“By the people for the people,” was Emily’s addition as she stated that there was a sense of it being available to all people of all ages and leading on from this Catriona stated that it could appeal to all audience members yet allowing them to interpret the productions in their own ways.
Carmen added that the whole feel to it was very much like a hippy commune and that although portrayed in a fun way it did feel like there might be a sinister side to it. Annie added further that the messages of the piece do stay with you long after you have watched it. Alice picked up on the notion of giving bread. It being as simple as bread is to life as everybody needs to eat food.
Although at the time I didn’t mention it in class – the idea of giving out bread to the audience was an interesting one as the Bread and Puppet theatre make a point of highlighting issues such as poverty. Maybe this was an attempt at feeding someone even if they could not feed the whole world. However, on the flip side I do think it may be quite ironic that the people they feed are those in a position to feed themselves. Perhaps this would take away from their supposed messages? .
We then discussed what skills we would learn as part of this course and how they could then help us in later life. The two main groups of skills we will learn are those which are physical and those that are analytical. The physical concentrating on how the B&P actors move and their use of banners and masks, the analytical skills coming to the fore when we learn why this theatre group performs the way it does and how their efforts make a mark on the world of contemporary theatre. We then discussed how these skills are transferable to every day life, for instance how a movement can change a person’s perspective or approach to a certain topic or issue that they perhaps once found distressing. We also discussed how as part of this module we will be exposed to one of the B&P’s main theories, that of cheap art and how we will learn the process of recycling and learn to appreciate our surroundings and what we can take from them, along with a further understanding of the issue of Globalisation.
Learning about what skills we would learn helped us to think about which skills we could bring to our final performance, such as with the physical aspect how to move, perform and use the space provided for us, along with how to make certain banners and the types of props we could use.
Matthew and Nesreen then discussed how our initial stimulus is split into three sections:
WAR ON TERROR
We then moved on as a group to discuss our two assessments for this term: The Theatre Project and The Essay.
The Theatre Project involves putting on a devised collaborative piece of theatre in the B&P style. Our piece is not meant to be an imitation, but rather a reflection on the key themes and ideas of B&P. The performance should only be 10-20 minutes long and as such should attempt to include as many relevant and effective techniques as possible. We will be assessed on how we worked as an ensemble group and will be moderated with a 10% margin for the individual; this marking will be completed by Matthew, Nesreen and other members of the drama department. Several questions arose, such as Emily asking if there would be a director, the reply was that there would be a director, but they would also act along with the cast as Peter Schumann does (as director of the B&P theatre.) We are allowed to perform anywhere that we so wish as long as we ask permission from the University security team and keep Health and Safety at the forefront of our minds.
The Theatre Project is set with the following criteria:
The play must have a clear message
Must include B&P methods & Techniques
Must include a sense of play & Festivity
The essay has a maximum word limit of 2,000 words with a 10% margin either way, anymore than 2,200 words and you will be marked down. This essay will be set over the Christmas holiday and will be due on the first day back from Christmas break – the seventh of January. Although we are allowed to write informally on this blog (though it is not encouraged) this essay will be weighted in a similar style to an English essay, meaning that correct spelling, formal language and sensible grammar will be expected. We are allowed to email any questions that we might wish to ask to Nesreen or Matthew but it is unlikely that we will be able to submit a rough draft, as the time period we have to write this assessment is so short. The question will be set later on in the term.
We then played some drama games which came from the book “The Wise Fool Basics” as a group to get ourselves moving and to bond, also to explore some of the B&P ideas we had read about previously.
The first-game was a friendly ice-breaker which entailed each individual stepping out from the comforting circle, stating their name and teaming it with a specific action, for example I had to say “Charlie” and then my action was jazz hands as I thought this was a sufficiently drama-esque type action. Nia went first and after Nia came Annie who had to say Nia’s name and perform her action before saying “Annie” and then coming up with her own movement. This continued around the circle with every person saying all of the previous names and performing all their actions before adding their name and movement to the increasing list.
We felt this was a good way to break the ice and allowed everybody to relax and forget their nerves. This game also needed concentration, which after several names allowed us to focus clearly on the game and not our surroundings, helping us later on in the class when we played some of the other, slightly more stretching activities.
One game involved walking around the room in a random fashion until one of the lecturers shouted out an emotion or object such as “sad” where everyone had to pose instantly in a frozen image of that emotion or object. If the lecturer then said intensify is meant that everyone had to increase their acting and make the pose melodramatic. If the lecturer then said Transform everyone had to pose in the opposite manner to the original emotion or object so in this case everyone would pose in a “happy” manner. To go back to walking around the room randomly the lecturer had to say “Resume.” This was quite funny and everyone found it amusing when we were asked to pose as the opposite to Christmas, which left most of us confused as well and then the opposite of a chair, when most people posed as a table.
This game allowed us to notice how a small action or change in body shape could make a huge difference. For example when I (Sheryl) was “happy” I lifted my arms in a jubilant manner while smiling broadly. When Matthew shouted “Transform” I simply allowed my hands to drop, my neck to droop and wiped the smile off my face to create a realistic portrayal as a “sad” person. We felt this was helpful as when it comes to the final performance we can use small actions to differentiate ourselves from the surroundings and other characters to emphasize our points and emotions.
We then moved onto another game, this one called the “Music Machine” where everyone had to make a noise and action to correspond to a certain machine or group, for instance the first time everyone turned into a train, soon the lecturers shouted out different machines to transform ourselves into including Pollution where most people ended up coughing and Democracy which caused some confusion as it became very apparent as to how no one really understood the definition of the term.
We noticed within this game how interesting it was that one person could lead by starting a simple action and the rest of the group would follow suit. It was also interesting to see the different people’s reactions to the words, showing a different interpretation to the person next to them. This game also helped with team-work as we all had to work together, as a team, to create the one machine. This is one game we should develop as a group in relevance to our final piece as we could start the performance with the building of one machine, as research has found visual imagery to have a lasting effect than spoken word, thereby making our message stay in the heads of our audience.
The next game was called the “car game” it involved everyone splitting off into pairs, one person being the “car” the other the “driver”. The idea was for the “car” to close their eyes and allow themselves to be steered by their open-eyed “driver”. This game involved a lot of trust as the “car” could only move at the insistence of the “driver”, for example pressing the lower part of the back to go forwards, the left shoulder to turn left and the right to turn in the corresponding direction. There were also a few close shaves with this game where the “driver” would occasionally and accidentally direct their “car” into a traffic jam, closely avoiding injury by tapping their “cars” on their heads, allowing the person playing “car” to realize they had to stop and stop quickly. This game was then swapped, allowing the person who was the “car” to turn into the “driver” and vice-versa.
We felt this game was a good trust game as the car people had to be prepared to allow their bodies to be at the complete mercy of their drivers, however what was also good with this game was the way the car knew that if their driver was mean they would be able to be mean back when the roles were reversed, this then encouraged everyone to be nice to one another and again increased the “friendly-group” atmosphere that had been built up to this point. The driver also had to be aware of the surrounding space and people in order to prevent any crashes. The drivers all seemed to work together allowing certain people to move at certain times, while in the majority avoiding any collisions.
We then finished on the song game where the lecturers asked us to think about Global Warming, come up with a phrase, but that phrase to a tune and then make a group of four and share our little tunes, making one large song. Afterwards the group of four had to join with another group and adjust their song to include the other. The result was rather strange with a choir, beatbox and “You will die!” sound emerging. The lecturers then asked the three groups of eight to all join together, once again rejoining the whole class and to use those songs into one large one. It ended up starting with the choir group’s song then the “You will die!” group and finally ending with the beat box posse.
This game was brilliant in the sense that it seemed to encompass a key B & P theme of “cheap art”. The song was devised spontaneously and cost us nothing to produce or perform; it was also a good ensemble piece – putting our team-working skills to the test. Some individuals took the lead while others were submissive, however everyone was allowed their say and as a result the groups worked well and achieved a unique and intriguing final song. In terms of the final piece we would argue that a song would be a definite thing to include as not only does it remain true to the techniques of B&P but also is a good way of putting across a serious message in a light-hearted manner.
We then reformed a circle and started another discussion, this time discussing the games. Carmen thought that the style of B&P was relevant to today as we are dealing with the recent conflicts in Iraq along with the previous problems in Afghanistan and Korea, which can be seen to reflect the B&P focus of war. She also felt that this form of expression is more prominent today as people have less power than they have in previous years. Rob then stated that the B&P format of free performance was a really good idea as their plays would be able to reach more people and their message would be spread further than if they simply stayed in a normal, traditional theatre. He also felt that the free bread was a bonus. Kerry thought that the song game emphasized the message “strength against the evil of the world” and helped to show the important of being with others who also want to change the world in a similar way to yourself. Nia stated that the B&P was almost symbolic theatre as bread is a basic need and that by watching this style of theatre you gain something back from the performance. Charlotte then raised the point that B&P is interesting as it completely rejects normal theatre and that the machine game allowed everyone to join in, just like acting in the streets allows everyone to watch. Rob concluded that it was easy for the group to bond because the B&P style is fun and adaptable, making the exercises and lesson enjoyable.
We then selected our tasks for the following weeks:
“MUSIC” Research music as part of the B&P Theatre: Junk music, jazz band, sacred harp or shape note song. Diana, Alice, Emily, Rosanna, Marika.
“CHOREOGRAPHY”. Simple but effective aesthetic to Pick apart the B&P style. Use videos. Laura, Freya, Marcus, Fleur, Jessica.
“PUPPET & MASK MAKING” Research how they are made etc. Make prototypes from cardboard. Sheryll, Nia, Catrina, Lou, Georgia. [Recommended reading includes Wise Fool Basics and Engineers of the Imagination]
“SCRIPT” How the plays are put together as plays; how the different elements cohere; language and how performance is structured textually. Emily, Leah, Carmen, Kerry, Jolie [Recommended reading includes Stefan Brecht's book on Bread and Puppet and a script by Schumann in Puppetry International 20, 2006.]
“SPACE & SCENOGRAPHY” How do the performances fit into their surroundings. Explore how backgrounds & backdrops are used in the space. Charlie, Rob, Charlotte, Annie
Week One Blog Writers: Charlie, Nia, Sheryl
Tuesday, 2 October 2007
ON Wednesday, 14th November at 5:00pm in WIN104 there will be a
HARC/Drama seminar on “Explicating the Artwork” organised by Professor David Wiles.
This seminar will feature Professor Baz Kershaw from the University of Warwick in dialogue with Adam Ganz, lecturer in Media Arts, RHUL. Professor Kershaw, as you'll recall, is the author of numerous books and articles on popular radical theatre - we read an excerpt for one of them for Monday's class.