Bread and Puppet

I went to see a Bread and Puppet show–the Sourdough Philosophy Circus–this weekend for the first time since I moved to Vermont almost six years ago. B&P is an institution here, and going to Glover to see a show has long been on my list of must-do-fun-day-trips. And I did have fun. I adored the Cheap Art bus; the barn/museum full of puppets, masks, murals, banners, stories, history (imagine an old musty timber frame barn stuffed with three decades of props from political street theater); the stork and cow and zebra and turkey masks/costumes of the current show; and of course the stilt walkers/dancers.

At the same time I kept expecting some queerness to appear in the art, the circus, the politics. I mean, it was all so resistant of capitalism, war, consumerism, greed with such an ethic of outlandish/outrageous creativity, all so bent, so queer in the general sense of the word, that I kept being surprised by the lack of specific queerness. I know white Vermont hippie culture, out of which B&P grows, is quite heterosexual; but probably because of my time with the radical faeries, where queerness, drag, outdoor community, and theater merge in a myriad of ways; I really did expect some flavor of queerness to rise to the surface. It didn’t.

On the other hand, I’ve come to practically expect racism and ableism at these kinds of events, and unfortunately my expectations were met in this regard. One of the performers in the circus yesterday was a woman of color and manual wheelchair user. Her roles–passive, limited, using her so clearly as a token woc–had me just shaking my head in disgust. For one, there were no attempts at creating any access in the performing space–a bumpy, slightly soggy pasture–leaving her to wheel over the lumps and softness and perform all at the same time. For two, she was totally not present in the big group song and dance numbers. (Has no one from B&P heard of or seen integrated dance?) For three, in one number she rolled out, followed by a white guy who held a sign saying “Ethiopia” over her head, while other white people in masks performed a dance about how the U.S. gives much more military aid than food aid to Ethiopia, and then at the end when she spoke about this disproportionate aid, the sign holder repeated her, as if the audience might not have understood or heard her. Arg! It was simply a big tangled wad of ableism and racism. And I was dismayed but not surprised.

I’m struck by the contrast between the ways I was surprised by the lack of queerness and the ways I was not surprised by the racism and ableism.

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