Bread & Puppet returns to New York City in December with The Insurrection Mass with Funeral March for a Rotten Idea: A Special Mass for the Aftermath of the Events of September 11th. This anti-war performance is billed as "a nonreligious service in the presence of several papier-mâché gods" and includes secular scripture readings, a fiddle sermon, and a hymn of the day. In an earlier version, the text of the mass included speeches by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. However, Schumann may also incorporate material pertaining to this past summer's G8 summit in Genoa, during which a protester was killed by police, as well as any late-breaking news.
The company has been performing various Insurrection Masses for the past several years. While the format remains the same, the "rotten idea" changes frequently; previous masses have focused on issues ranging from sweatshops to domestic violence. Loosely structured after the Roman Catholic Mass, the collective title of these events has given the company trouble in the past. Last year, for example, a performance in Great Barrington, Massachusetts drew fire from conservative Christian groups who found the concept offensive. "That was very surprising to us," says Elbow. "The performance is not mocking Christianity. It's not mocking the form. We've used Christian forms for a long time."
Bread & Puppet often displays a sense of pageantry. One of its largest and most successful appearances was as part of the June 12, 1982 anti-nuclear march in New York, which drew roughly a million people; the Bread & Puppet contingent alone involved about 500. "We had our unit laid out as a story," recalls Elbow. "It's compelling when you see that. It's much different than a bunch of people chanting in the exact same rhythm and with very little variation. With puppets, you can do a whole lot more."
The company's anti-war stance has already placed it at odds with some New Yorkers. For the first time, Bread & Puppet did not march in this year's annual Village Halloween Parade. According to Elbow, the company was all set to participate when parade organizer Jeanne Fleming became nervous that the group's plans would offend the cops--and, possibly, the public. At the last minute, the puppeteers were told: "What you're bringing, we don't want."
Fleming stated that it was a matter of timing, not censorship, but many in Bread & Puppet felt otherwise. "We certainly weren't saying 'Hooray for the terrorists,'" comments Elbow. "We were saying, 'Look what you're doing to the people of Afghanistan.' "