The circus is coming! On Tuesday, October 18th the resident cultural organizations in Jackson’s Center for the Arts, including KHOL, are presenting the acclaimed theater company Bread and Puppet. KHOL spoke with two members of the troupe – Paul Bedard and Andy Colpitts – in advance of their upcoming show.
COHEN/KHOL: First off, I am so excited to be speaking with you both today and I’m also so excited for this performance, titled “Apocalypse Defiance Circus.” This event is both the first time that Bread and Puppet will be performing in Wyoming, and it is also the first collaboration of its kind between all the resident cultural organizations here at the Center for the Arts. So for those that aren’t familiar with Bread and Puppet, how would you describe this show? What is the audience going to experience?
BEDARD: It’s a circus, so you’re going to see a lot of circus tropes that are reinterpreted for puppets. We always open with a flag run, so like the entire cast is running around with flags. A clown introduces the show and then we see a bunch of short acts. Some of them have stilts, others have tigers. Some of the puppets are larger than life, like 20 feet tall, and some of the puppets are, you know, held. So the audience is really going to see a great variety of puppetry styles and get to listen to a great brass band the whole while they do.
KHOL: Is this show typical of Bread and Puppet?
COLPITTS: So every year, Bread and Puppet will make a new circus. It’s one kind of Bread and Puppet show that happens. They usually happen outside with a big circus curtain and a ring. But there are other kinds of Bread and Puppet shows as well that happen indoors that are shorter form usually and don’t have this kind of sequence of acts.
BEDARD: We are doing two different shows in New York City, one of which is this circus, the Apocalypse Defiance Circus, the other of which is an adaptation of Hamlet called Ophelia. So instead of reinterpreting a circus, [we are] reinterpreting this, you know, old play and like this, you know, this great story and this great poetry.
KHOL: So is Bread and Puppet usually reinterpreting a known concept? Is that part of the model?
BEDARD: I mean, we do also do brand new shows, but I would say [in] all Bread and Puppet shows, there is at least a nod to, you know, ancient rituals and some of the biggest stories and biggest themes. I think that’s one of the things that’s really special about Bread and Puppet, that it is operating on this universal level to get at very specific political issues of this moment.
KHOL: This show and most of your work is often a critique or commentary on our political system and economic system. How has that resonated with audiences? Are you ever met with opposition?
BEDARD: Although we are often critiquing the brutalities of the system, the world that we live in, we try never to be mean spirited about it. You know, we’re never trying to like mock individuals. A lot of times we’re mocking systems and actions within systems and trying to appeal to the audience to see the humanity and the human consequences of some of these brutal decisions that are being made. So, for example, the company was founded being antiwar and doing protests to the Vietnam War. But we would, for example, never mock the troops or the myriad people who are caught up in the decisions of war and the war machine.
KHOL: So you reference the Vietnam War. Bread and Puppet has been around for 50 years. How has it changed in that time?
BEDARD: I mean, I think it’s inevitable that, you know, everything changes all the time. But one of the things I really admire about Bread and Puppet is that it is so uncompromising with its core values. Bread and Puppet doesn’t accept grant money and Bread and Puppet never turns audiences away for lack of funds. And it’s one of the oldest self-sustaining companies, despite, you know, economic crises that have happened in the last 60 years. It’s still, you know, crying for a better world and trying to live out its politics in a way that I find very inspiring. But, you know, I’m sure there have been myriad changes that perhaps older puppeteers might be able to speak to.
KHOL: And you do have a diversity of ages in the troupe. What is it like touring with 25 people.
COLPITTS: It can be, you know, wacky and chaotic, but it is always fun and always a joy. I think one of the important things to know about the company is that everyone is doing everything. You know, no one has just one job. No one is just a performer. So everyone is, you know, a performer and a bread baker and is driving a vehicle and is repairing puppets and doing, you know, myriad other things.
BEDARD: …and booking the tour and while the tour is happening.
COLPITTS: So that means that it is very busy, you know, we’re going all the time and, you know, trying to eke out and cobble together our existence as we go. But it’s always fun. We get to see amazing places being hosted by wonderful people and each event and each place that we go to.
KHOL: Well, we are really looking forward to seeing the performance next week. Bread and Puppet will be performing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 18th, outside on the Center for the Arts Lawn.