Elka Schumann, co-founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater company, has died at the age of 85. Elka was born in the Soviet Union in 1935 and brought to the United States in 1941. She and her husband Peter Schumann began the Bread and Puppet Theater company in 1963. Their first productions ranged from puppet shows for children to pieces protesting poor housing conditions. The group later moved to Vermont. Its processions involving monstrous puppets, some about 20 feet high, became a fixture of protests against the Vietnam War. The Bread and Puppet Theater also milled its own flour and baked its own bread, sharing it with audience members. This is Elka Schumann appearing in the 2001 film, “Ah! The Hopeful Pageantry of Bread and Puppet,” produced by her daughter Tamar and DeeDee Halleck.
Elka Schumann: “We have a grinder over there, and we grind the grain ourselves. And the bread is not at all like your supermarket bread. You really have to chew it. You really have to put some work into it. But then you get something very good for that. And when our theater is successful, we feel it’s the same way. You’ve got to think about — it doesn’t like tell you everything. It’s not like Wonder Bread: It’s just like there it is, here’s the story, this is what it means. You’ve got to do some figuring yourself in the theater, in our theater. And if the play is successful, then at the end you probably feel it was worth the work.”
Elka Schumann died Sunday, surrounded by her five children and her partner Peter.