By Chris Berger
There were going to be puppets, so of course I had to go!
This one-night performance of Bread & Puppet’s The Apocalypse Defiance Circus at The Kimball Recital Hall in Lincoln was free to the public
“The Bread and Puppet Theater is an internationally celebrated company that champions a visually rich, street-theater brand of performance art filled with music, dance, and slapstick. The Apocalypse Defiance Circus is a political spectacular, with large-scale puppetry, singing, dancing and a brass band.”Director, Peter Schumann
This year’s circus’ central theme is Homosapiens reform.
From their website:
“Insidious Homosapiens, representative of the Accumulated Evil of the Whole, will be arrested, taken to court, & condemned to a rehabilitation facility where he has to take classes in totally new behavior: how to be an earthling instead of an engineer of the humanity machine, how to cry like a bird & speak like a thunderstorm & then graduate with a Dr. degree to cure the species from its life-threatening diseases like war, capitalism, fossil fuel addiction, weapons obsession, etc.”
Director Peter Schumann says the show is “in response to our totally unresurrected capitalist situation, not only the hundreds of thousands of unnecessarily sacrificed pandemic victims but our culture’s unwillingness to recognize Mother Earth’s revolt against our civilization. Since we earthlings do not live up to our earthling obligations, we need resurrection circuses to yell against our own stupidity.”
As you can tell from the promotional material above this show was thoroughly political, solidly progressive and completely unabashed. It’s protest theatre, anti-establishment on purpose in the effort to point out injustices that they believe have and are being done not only here in the US but all around the world. But, putting politics aside (I won’t be reviewing political points of view, just the show) the show overall struck me as humanistic, hopeful and funny. Definitely not a negative, angry, down-with-everything kind of protest show. Yes, there was anger in some spots, but it was always tempered with sadness for what was lost or taken away. And through it all is always hope. Hope that things can get better. I found the show very uplifting and inspiring and left with a smile on my face – it warmed my little progressive heart.
The stage is very simply done with their large banner in the middle of the stage that is used as a sort of backstage between vignettes. Stage left is a workman human puppet that stays through the show and cleans up between the different vignettes. Stage right is a 3-piece band (small drum set, tuba, trumpet) that plays Dixieland jazz to warm up the crowd and also stays to play throughout the show. And that’s the stage; everything else is created by dancers, puppets & puppeteers, giant flags, enormous props, lights and music. Also, UNL students were used to put on the show.
There were several different vignettes covering crazy weather & climate change, LGBTQ rights here and abroad, police violence, free Palestine, the end of Covid and other government lies, pro-earth and live in harmony with nature, Big Dairy & too much genetic manipulation of animals and better wages for migrant dairy workers, Brazilian covid deaths and police violence, rainforest deforestation, overworked & underpaid healthcare workers, the assassination of Oscar Romero, too many firearms, Roe v Wade & the Supreme Court and a brief history of Reparations. All of this was done with music and dancing and just the right amount of outrage, humor and hope. This was for me a unique theatre experience that I absolutely enjoyed.
After the show, Bread & Puppet serves its famous rye sourdough bread with garlic aioli, and offers original posters, cards, banners, and books published by the Bread & Puppet Press.
Huge puppets, fresh bread, original art and a refreshing progressive spirit are the, well, bread and butter, of the Bread and Puppet Theater experience. Hopefully The Nebraska Rep has The Bread & Puppet Circus back again next year – I shall be there with bells on!
Chris Berger is an actor currently living in Louisville, NE and co-host of The Platte River Bard podcast with his wife and co-founder/co-owner & performer in The Jolly Rogers – The Original Singing Pirates of the Midwest since 1991.
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