Thursday, 15 October 2009

Notes on Week 3

Group A workshop: Sacred Harp. Photo by Matthew Maw

Part 1
We began the session by making a group decision of what we would like to be our key issue in our Bread and Puppet theatre style performance later on in the term. Sat in a circle, we went round everybody who had about 30 seconds to pitch their idea to the rest of the group. The following are all the different ideas that people had:
Westboro Baptist Church (Fred Phelps)
Picket funerals of soldiers that have died in Iraq
State that the soldiers deserved to die as America has allowed homosexuality to exist in America.
Documentary made on the Church by Louis Theroux.

Rights over our own body
Religion controlling Politics

Gordon Brown

Zapatista Movement
Peasant’s rights
War on the State

British National Party Rallies

Climate Change
Is it Government control propaganda?
Gap between science and governing the planet

Whaling/ Over-sea fishing
Green Peace protestations to these activities

Body image
Perfect Body = Happiness

Factory farming vs. Local villagers
Friends of the Earth protestation

Global Warming in Developing Countries

MP’s expenses scandal

Ecological Issues
Land Fill sites

Lack of support for Veterans
Soldier suicide rates at an all time high

With all the ideas pitched, Alissa generalised the issues into smaller groups and votes were cast for each as follows:
Brown/MP Expenses Scandal/BNP – 7 Votes

Ecological Issues – 0 Votes

Religious Views (Westboro Baptist Church/Abortion) – 3 Votes

Zapatista Movement- 0 Votes

What makes you Happy- 8 Votes

Veteran Soldiers- 0 Votes

With a majority vote for the issue “What makes you Happy”, this is the issue we have decided to use in our group performance. We went on to discuss various topics that could be included in this particular issue. Body image was a primary topic, with issues such as body image and photo shopping being suggested and what limits there are to these topics. The current Ralph Lauren photo scandal was also an item brought to our attention in regards to this topic which we can go on to research. We also discussed how consumerism and money issues can be seen as important to some people in the debate of “What makes you Happy.”

Part 3
In the 3rd part of the class we decided to set up a group on Facebook so that people would be able to post some of their ideas as to what we could include in our performance of “What makes you Happy.”
Afterwards, we went on to discuss the social context of the 1970’s which was when the Bread and Puppet theatre began. Some of the important issues we discussed, in relation to theatre at this time, were mass censorship in theatre and also the social issues of violence in this era. We also mentioned about how theatre was very particular and restricted as only the public that could afford to go to the theatre would go, and in this way was less open than it is in this day and age.
We then split into different groups to discuss the articles that we had been instructed to read in preparation for the lesson. These articles included “TDR Comment” by Erika Munk which gave a detailed description of the Bread and Puppet show “The Tragedy in Mississippi” and an article by Peter Schumann discussing the use of bread in the company.
When we returned as a group to discuss the articles, we spoke about what techniques in the plays seemed to be effective. Some techniques mentioned were the use of sounds rather than verbal speech created a haunting effect in some of the plays, which was supported by the notion that actions speak louder than words. We also discussed how the use of colours in the performances can be seen to be symbolic, and how the repetition of the same scene at the beginning and end of a play can be effective.
We also discussed how Bread and Puppet theatre can be viewed in relation to children. One issue that arose was that giant puppets could be a scary thing for a child to witness. However, it was also argued that it is necessary for children to view Bread and Puppet plays as they are being exposed to political and social issues early on in life. Furthermore it was argued that, by using puppets, it allows the company to state their causes less aggressively and it is able to present the issues without demanding a decision to be made on the issue having viewed the piece of theatre. The shows were also admired for displaying to children how power can be seen as corruptive.

By Tommy Adamson


For the second part of the lecture the first workshop was introduced.
This workshop gave us an insight into the musical ideas of the Bread
and Puppet theatre, which included the explanations of the instruments
used and the way in which the music of the “Sacred Harp” is performed
in terms of staging, singing and locations.

Firstly we learnt that Sacred Harp Music is written differently to
Western Music. Instead of the traditional ‘DO, RAY, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI,
DO’ Sacred Harp Music uses ‘FA, SOL, LA, MI’ These are represented by
different shapes signifying the degree of the scale as oppose to the
traditional pitch of a scale. FA is represented as a triangle, SOL an
oval, LA a square and MI a diamond shape. For example the first note of
the scale would always be FA, whether it be a Major or Minor scale. FA
is the first degree of any scale. By having music written in such
simple terms it makes the music easy to read and it is therefore
accessible to anyone. This complies with the idea’s that Bread and
Puppet have, bringing the community together and proving that ‘Art is
for everyone.’ Once this was understood the group did a small
performance of Sacred Harp Music for everyone to hear; they stood in a
square formation with the Alto opposite the Tenor and the Soprano
opposite the Bass. This is the formation in which Sacred Harp Music is
sung,( there would usually be a conductor in the middle.)

Secondly the group continued explaining the use of Sacred Harp Music
within Bread and Puppet theatre. Highlighting the fact that the music
is traditionally Protestant Christian but in Bread and Puppet it is
used in all sorts of ways. Whether it be to convey a message or to
create an atmosphere. The music is played without any accompaniment
focusing on the idea of music as music- using the instrument that you
were blessed with at birth. Sacred Harp Music is never rehearsed so
each song that is performed is unique, each singer has to improvise and
listen to each other so a different interpretation of a song is created
each time. This adds authenticity to bread and puppet theatre and
underlines the huge sense of community within the company. Like all
Schumann’s work, Sacred Harp Music is used to create a message that
will effect the audience- make them rethink the issues that have been
broadcasted in the theatre.

The idea of ‘Cheap-Art’ was focused on in the 3rd part of the workshop.
The group explained about Junk Instruments and how you can make music
out of anything, from old jars to bits of plastic. They then passed
around some musical instruments to each member of the group, some were
junk instruments other non harmonic instruments such as drums. People
without instruments used their bodies as instruments by clapping their
hands or stamping their feet. They then introduced a small practical
exercise to highlight the communal idea of music making and help the
group understand how Sacred Harp Music works. They began with a simple
beat and then each person added to this beat. This is very similar to
the ‘Music Machine’ in week one only each person goes in turn,
listening to each other and adding to the creation of Music. It was
interesting to hear the Music build as each person added their
contribution, it became Music instead of just instruments being played
together. It was unique and couldn’t have been played in the same way
twice, highlighting the authenticity of Sacred Harp Music and helping
the group understand how it works.

Once the group understood the idea the workshop was then ended with the
creation of some Sacred Harp Music. The group had created a round using
lines from ‘The Foot’ by Peter Schumann and performed it to show the
group what they were trying to achieve.
They then split the group up into Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.
Soprano’s sang, “mushroom, barley, salt and pepper, chicken liver,
chicken heart” once, before the Alto’s came in with a different melody
line and rhythm singing, “potatoes, potatoes, and carrots and carrots.”
Then the Tenor’s and Basses made staggered entries as well, the Tenors
singing, “Protest and Survive” whilst the Basses sang “Don’t let the
big foot crush you” in a loud monotonic voice. The melodies were all
being sung together, the soprano’s light melody contrasted with the
brashness of the Basses ‘Don’t let the big foot crush you.’ Each part
then stopped singing in turn and the message ‘Don’t let the big foot
crush you’ was repeated at the end with everyone singing different
notes and increasing the volume to underline the message. By doing this
the group then understood the effectiveness of Sacred-Harp-Music and
had become involved in the communal experience of Music and “Cheap-Art”
giving the group a better grasp of what Bread and Puppet theatre


To end the lecture we had a second workshop on Dance. This workshop
gave us an insight into the dance ideas of the Bread and Puppet
theatre, which included the explanations of the different styles used
and the way in which the dancing is performed in terms of staging,
space and locations.

Firstly the group began by talking about ‘Folk-Dancing' explaining
that this type of Dance is not tightly choreographed. We learnt that
the dancers do not move exactly at the same time, the do not have
crisp, articulate movements such as a dance like Ballet. However, there
dancing has more abstract movement and the dancers move on
impulse/feelings as oppose to a direct, strict structure. They parade a
lot and interweave with each other, standing in circles, holding hands
etc. This is a clear example of the rural life that Bread and Puppet
leads and shows a lot of community spirit. There is always a sense of
community within Bread and Puppet whether it be in puppet-making,
Music, Theatre or Dance.

Secondly the group focused on ‘Ensemble movement’, highlighting the
fact that Bread and Puppet always performs in different locations and
different spaces, they may be in a street, a field or a small room. As
an Ensemble they have to adapt to this and not be confined by the space
that they are given. The performers are untrained dancers and have to
adapt and have versatile movements, this is why the Dance style is
mainly folk as it is basic and communal. Everyone can join in. When it
comes to dancing Space is very important and Schumann does try to cover
the entire space that he has to use.

We also discussed ‘Representational Dancing’ for example ‘Blackbirds’
The dancing consisted of a lot of bird movements, there was a strong
relationship between the message and the Dance. The dancing in Bread
and Puppet always reflects what the narrator is saying. All the
movements for the dancing are dictated by the narrator, the narrator is
usually Schumann and he is best described as the conductor of the dance
(in this case.) This shows the relationship between the performer and
Schumann, again indicating a strong community and ‘Art for everyone.’
By dancing in this way as oppose to a strict structure you can see the
community as a whole, working together and moving on their impulses. In
a lot of dance movements the dances are practiced and choreographed to
impress, Bread and Puppet are trying to change an opinion not impress
an audience.

Finally to allow everyone to grasp how dance is used within Bread and
Puppet we had a practical session. To begin with the practical session
started off as a ‘Movement machine’ reflecting what makes you happy.
However, this didn’t seem to work as it was hard to work together when
different things make different people happy. So we changed tactics.
The group split into two lines and ran forward into a circle. The left
line would cross over to the right and make the circle from that side,
so that each person was interweaving with each other. We then all held
hands and danced together. Mainly around in a circle for four steps and
then around in the opposite direction. We also moved in and out as a
circle and all cheered and clapped. This was a much more effective way
of dancing as everyone was working together. It looked good and we all
felt a sense of community, we were not asked to cheer but it seemed to
come automatically. The practical session helped us all understand the
type of dancing that is in Bread and Puppet and now that we had
experienced it we can now incorporate it into our own performance of
‘What makes you happy?’


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