Home Farm Equipment Elka Schumann, Matriarch of the Bread and Puppet Theater, Dies at 85

Elka Schumann, Matriarch of the Bread and Puppet Theater, Dies at 85


Elka Schumann, who together with her husband, Peter, ran the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, recognized for its countercultural messaging via avant-garde puppeteering, died on Aug. 1 in a hospital in Newport, Vt. She was 85.

The trigger was a stroke, her son Max Schumann mentioned.

As its title suggests, the Bread and Puppet Theater is devoted to 2 sorts of artwork: baking and puppetry. Contemporary sourdough bread, milled and baked by Mr. Schumann, was distributed to troupe members and the viewers whereas monstrous papier-mâché puppets, propelled by actors inside them, informed tales that took on social and political causes like housing inequality and antiwar and anti-draft activism.

Amongst the recurring characters was the troupe’s first antagonist, Uncle Fatso, whose roles included a slumlord and allegorical representations of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. The troupe’s productions included renditions of performs by the leftist German playwright Bertolt Brecht and reveals primarily based on the diaries of the anarchist Emma Goldman.

The critic Holland Cotter of The New York Occasions described a go to to Bread and Puppet Theater in 2007 as surreal, “an impossible trick of stagecraft, a miracle experience.”

The Schumanns ran their operation out of a farm in Glover, Vt., in the northeast half of the state, and toured the nation in a sky-blue faculty bus with a mountain panorama, an angel and a beaming solar painted on it. The corporate made some extent of placing on reveals in underserved communities and involving youngsters from there in making costumes and generally performing.

However the troupe was greatest recognized for its annual competition, Our Home Resurrection Circus, a puppet-dense two-day Woodstock-like affair with a pageant, a parade and politically bent skits about local weather change, international consumerism and nuclear annihilation. For a few years the occasion, “a countercultural spectacle,” drew crowds of almost 40,000 and was the troupe’s principal supply of funding, John Bell, a puppeteer and theater historian, wrote in a paper.

The Resurrection Circus began in 1970 however abruptly led to 1998 after a struggle broke out on the grounds leading to a person’s dying.

Ms. Schumann was an avowed anticapitalist, and the farm in Glover, full with livestock and a maple-sugaring operation, grew to become her personal quasi-society working on socialist rules. As the troupe matriarch she saved the books and managed the funds and generally carried out in reveals.

She additionally managed The Bread and Puppet Press, which distributed pamphlets, broadsheets and posters delivering political and cultural commentary. In a manifesto titled “Why Cheap Art,” which she printed on posters, Ms. Schumann wrote: “Art is food. You can’t eat it but it feeds you.”

It continued: “Art is like good bread! Art is like green trees! Art is like white clouds in blue sky! Art is cheap! Hurrah!”

Elka Leigh Scott was born on Aug. 29, 1935, one of two ladies, in Magnitogorsk, a metropolis in Russia about 1,000 miles east of Moscow. Her mom, Maria Ivanova (Dikareva) Scott, was a instructor. Her father, John Scott, was an American who labored as a journalist in the Soviet Union. Her mother and father had supported the Russian Revolution.

When Elka was younger, as German forces invaded, the household fled the nation, taking a prepare to Japan and an ocean liner to Hawaii earlier than persevering with on to San Francisco. They lived for a time in Pennsylvania, moved to New York Metropolis and spent 4 years in Berlin after the battle earlier than returning to the United States in 1949, settling in Ridgefield, Conn.

Elka attended Ridgefield Excessive College for 3 years earlier than transferring to the personal Putney College in Vermont, the place her grandfather Scott Nearing, a outstanding left-wing economist, was a lecturer. She went to Bryn Mawr Faculty in Pennsylvania, graduating with a level in artwork historical past in 1958.

In a 2016 oral historical past with the Vermont Historic Society, Ms. Schumann mentioned that her first years at Bryn Mawr have been considerably disappointing: Her classmates spent extra time darning socks for his or her boyfriends than anything.

In her junior yr she studied overseas in Munich, the place she met Peter Schumann. They married in 1959 and had 5 youngsters whereas dwelling on the Decrease East Facet of Manhattan, the place they began the Bread and Puppet Theater in 1963. The political local weather of the Nineteen Seventies made the couple’s work extra pressing.

Some of the firm’s first performances have been road parades and protests supporting hire strikes and the labor motion. One protest concerned Mr. Schumann parading a puppet of Jesus in Manhattan holding an indication that merely mentioned, “Vietnam.”

The household moved to Plainfield, Vt., in 1970, and lived on a farm there for 4 years till Ms. Schumann’s father bought the Glover farm that grew to become Bread and Puppet’s house, full with a museum.

Along with her son Max, Ms. Schumann is survived by her husband; two different sons, Solveig and Salih Schumann; two daughters, Tamar Schumann and Tjasa Maria Schumann; 5 grandchildren; and her sister, Elena Scott Whiteside.

In 2001, Tamar Schumann and the activist DeeDee Halleck made a documentary movie titled “AH! The Hopeful Pageantry of Bread and Puppet.”

Ms. Schumann was buried in a pine grove on the farm.


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