Stringing together entertainment
November 5, 2009 12:05 PM
Peter Schumann, now a world leader in puppetry, returned to SF State on Oct. 30 after 41 years to celebrate his work in radical theater and to speak to theater students about politics and theater.
More than 30 people gathered in the Little Theater inside the Creative Arts building to listen to Schumann give a song/lecture, "The Paper Mache Religion," about his art, using his fiddle. Schumann stood alone on the small stage, strumming his fiddle back and forth and loudly projecting words of his idea of religion.
Back in 1968, SF State hosted the Radical Theater Festival, featuring artists specializing in traditional forms of theater including puppetry, mime and storytelling.
"For the festival, we brought together companies that had similar ideas about outdoor, non-commercial, politically committed theatrical productions," said Ron Davis, founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and participant in the 1968 festival.
Schumann started his company, Bread & Puppet Theater, almost 38 years ago as a way to speak up against capitalism and bring awareness to political and religious conflicts around the world. Past performances include puppets representing the Buddhist monks' self-immolation protests to the Vietnam War and Palestinian families suffering in the Gaza Strip.
"I heard about him from some of my friends and we thought it would be interesting to come and see his form of theater," said Jessica Lafever, 17, a freshman majoring in theatre arts. "It's different than most theater pieces, the way he speaks through movement."
Schumann has been interested in puppets since he was a boy putting on puppet shows for soldiers in the refugee camp in war-torn Germany, where he lived with his family for many years. When he moved to a farm in Glover, Vermont, he started making bread in brick ovens and began building a barn full of puppets, leading to the idea for the Bread and Puppet Theater.
"I decided a long time ago that I wanted to make theater from the things that we make," Schumann said. "Meaning we live off of what we make, from clay in the river to make puppets, to bread and vegetables from the farm."
When asked about his use of masks and puppets to tell stories of political issues in countries around the world, Schumann described his love for art and distaste for media like cinema that make him embarrassed for the voyeurism that is used to display emotion in films.
"For me, sculpture is a big vein into people's insides, much more than using facial acrobatics," Schumann said.
To learn more, watch Schumann perform "The Paper Mache Religion" on YouTube.
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