When the Bread and Puppet Company comes to Chilmark next week there will be protests, absurdity, laughter — and there’s a good chance audience members will leave scratching their heads. If you leave with a new point of view, even better.
The theatre group is celebrating 50 years of addressing political and social issues through puppetry, and on Wednesday performs its 50th anniversary cabaret at the Chilmark Community Center. The show is free to the public. The evening begins with a community potluck at 6 p.m. followed by the performance at 7:30 p.m.
The company will perform five pieces spanning its history: King Story, an anti-war piece performed at the March on Washington in 1967; A Man Says Goodbye to His Mother, created in response to the Vietnam War about a young man going off to war; President and Chair, a 1982 piece in which the ridiculousness of puppet shows and election campaigns intersect; The Foot, created for a rally against nuclear weapons; and Courage, a piece from the late 1990s that includes a flying lesson.
Although many of the company’s works were created in the past, their message is still pertinent, longtime company member Linda Elbow said.
“One of the things that I like about our theatre is it depends who’s looking at it,” she said. “I remember years ago we had a show in New York city. I was selling posters after the show and someone grabbed me at the throat and said, ‘What was that about?’ We took it to Poland and people were coming up in tears because it meant so much to them.”
The company was founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann, a German-born artist who brought his giant puppet and masked figures to life at rallies and street performances. The company is still taking on political topics, ranging from immigration reform to the Voting Rights Act, and continues to create new works at their farm in Glover, Vt.
“Often people will say, Bread and Puppet — that’s the sixties,. But there’s nothing to complain about anymore? There’s nothing to protest anymore?” Ms. Elbow said. “It continues to be a group of very dedicated performers.”