Puppetry workshop brings Owls, performers together for larger-than-life performance

Bread and Puppet workshop
Bread and Puppet workshop practice
Student volunteers with Bread and Puppet performers at workshop. Photos by Gustavo Raskosky​​​

Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts and the Department Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures within the School of Humanities, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and Bread and Puppet Theater — one of the oldest nonprofit political theater companies in the country — Rice students got the chance to play roles in a larger-than-life puppet show Nov. 22.

Ultimately, eight Rice students took part in the Bread and Puppet performance of “The Apocalypse Defiance Circus,” a show created in response to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and “our culture’s unwillingness to recognize Mother Earth’s revolt against our civilization,” according to the group. On Nov. 21, participating students gathered at the Orange Show headquarters for an afternoon workshop in which they worked with Bread and Puppet to learn their roles and help manipulate the puppets that would be used in the performance.

The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1963 in New York City before moving to Vermont in 1974. The group’s dynamic shows feature massive puppets and elaborate costumes, and every event ends with the audience sharing in traditional sourdough rye bread baked by the puppeteers themselves.

“Our students got to actually work with them, be in this show and have this kind of hands-on, lived experience,” said Natasha Bowdoin, Rice associate professor of painting and drawing in the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts who co-organized the event with Orange Show curator of programs Pete Gershon.

Esther Fernández, associate professor and program advisor in Spanish and Portuguese in the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures, was excited to participate in the event along with her students.

“I am teaching a class on Spanish theater on social justice and outreach, and when Natasha mentioned this opportunity, I read the email three times because I could not believe it,” Fernández said, who was thrilled that the workshop and performance “encouraged students to get more involved in experiencing first-hand what the Houston art community can offer."

Bread and Puppet workshop at The Orange ShowPerformers with flags practice in front of school busPre-performance practice at Bread and Puppet workshop with performers brandishing flagsPerformers in costume the day before Bread and Puppet performancePerformers in masks at Bread and Puppet workshop