In the 1980s I worked as a theater critic. I spent a lot of time in expensive Broadway theaters and ambitious nonprofit repertory companies. But some of my most memorable experiences were at street theater events by groups like the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater. I first saw them in Boston at a time when the manifesto below was relatively new. It’s now a quarter century old but it hasn’t lost any of its truth.
For most of my writing life I’ve had a copy of this poster on my wall near where I work. When we rebuilt my basement office I lost track of it, but recently found it and rehung it. Here it is for you. (I got this image here.)
Happy long weekend, everyone. Make some cheap art!
A classic. Frame that one.
Not to drag the level of discourse down, but about 20 years ago the Bread & Puppet folks swept through the University of Virginia and handed out these fliers. I went to a “rehearsal” but thought the “songs” that they wanted us to sing were a drag–overly political and in no way representative of art as I understood it.
So I laughed really hard when the campus humor magazine printed a version of the manifesto on the back of their next issue that substituted the word “sex” for “art” in the manifesto. I believe one of the lines was “Sex is like really good bread!”
“Sex” is an amusing substitute, for sure!
I think the “artistic quality” of B&P work in a conventional sense — stuff like the script and lyrics — has at best been hugely uneven over the years (though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of their pieces). What interested me was the spirit, the handcrafted communal quality, the philosophy of inclusion.
I can also imagine a vast gulf between these Vermont hippies and successive generations of college students.
Scott, I think you’re right that the gulf was generational. I was a first year student in the fall of 1990, and by that time–the era of the laser printer and DTP–part of the appeal of DIY was how professional you could make it look.
Plus I was in a student run vocal group that was learning Renaissance music and directed by a grad student with exacting standards. The dubious musicality of what B&C proposed to put on as a show grated on my perfectionist side.