For anyone walking unsuspectingly by a Bread and Puppet Theater performance, you might not think that such a ragtag bunch of characters could pack such a political punch.
“We believe in cheap art here, and that’s the art that we live and create,” says resident puppeteer Katherine Nook.
Unhappy with the opportunities available in the commercial world, Nook took her college background in theater and began working two years ago with Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater — the longstanding left-winged performance troupe that brings its latest production, “The Circus of the Possibilitarians” to the Cambridge Common this Sunday.
Cheap art doesn’t sound flattering on the surface. But when you do a little exploring into the philosophy of Bread and Puppet founder Peter Schumann, it makes perfect sense why audiences ultimately find his productions so arresting.
“Cheap art is art that is accessible to everybody,” explains Nook from rehearsal in Vermont. “It’s also art that can be made by anybody.”
Puppets are made with secondhand materials such as cardboard, used latex paint and fabric. They range in size from the small to life-sized masks that performers wear to 20-foot-tall creations.
“I think, first and foremost, it has a feel of accessibility,” says Nook. A circus is the perfect vehicle to express that sense of freedom and accessibility directly to audiences.
“Possibilitarians” explores the idea that we have the power to make changes small and big to the systems that we live in — whether they be changes within ourselves or to the politics that govern our social structure. In addition to the many silly and beautiful masks and puppets, many of this year’s skits focus on riot police and different responses that we have to the complex role that they play, as both keepers of the peace and enforcers of the status quo.
“We don’t present solutions,” says Nook (who will puppeteer a lion). “We present the problem.”