Bread and Puppet’s Schumann on “Manning” show

We interviewed Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann (pictured below) in February when the Vermont company performed “Manning: 8 Dances for the Soldier Who Brought a Helicopter Massacre in Baghdad to the Light of Day” at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The show (pictured here) was dedicated to Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army private who’s been locked in a military prison in Virginia since last year, accused of giving thousands of secret American records of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as diplomatic files to WikiLeaks.

“Manning” follows on the company’s show “Modern Sky,” performed at the Boston Center for the Arts in January, which paired a haunted dance with a transcript revealed by Wikileaks of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad, which killed a number of apparent civilians, including two Iraqis working for the Reuters news agency.

Schumann joked about his aims for the show:

“First of all we want to get rid of the Pope, that’s one issue. And the other one is we want to get rid of the American empire. So all those things we hope to accomplish. You know, as soon as Obama hears about this, he’s going to step down. Obviously. We have very steep goals there.”

“Wikileaks really depended on this courageous soldier there to bring out these hidden truths and horrors. That that soldier gets punished severely for his patriotism, that’s the logical consequence. That is hidden by having an in-bed-with-the-government media, and therefore not visible to the general public. That’s the other typical American situation. So it very badly needs puppeteers and other folks that are noisemakers to make these noises. And the dance makes that noise.”

“Manning”: “It uses texts and statements from the whole proceedings; it just uses what-happened-facts as titles in the show. I don’t know if you saw our dance that we did on the occasion of Israel’s war on Lebanon. It included the titles of the dances and of the facts hanging above the dances, sort of in the ceiling and the dance was almost oppressively underneath these oppressive statements. And this is similar. We borrowed that from that Lebanon invasion dance. We don’t quote, we don’t use texts other than the title texts in the show. We give all the dances spoken titles also. We’re calling the first dance, it’s a dedication dance to the courageous soldier Bradley Manning, etc. The last dance is a hope dance, Mr. Manning’s hopeful statement that the distribution of this information will spur discussion and reforms. Since the word ‘hope’ stems from the word ‘hop’ we are transforming it into a hop, hop, hop dance.”

Where do you see the Iraq war now? The Wikileaks helicopter video is from 2007. “It seems to me that it’s getting worse and worse and worse. Recently [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates has stated that they actually want to stay there, they want to fake their exit and do a formal exit that actually is a staying on. A tricky exit, a typical American one, where they actually stay but formally they leave. As in Haiti and in other parts of the world.”

“The Manning thing, if we would have a free press, as it calls itself, if this would be, if journalists and public speakers would really pick up this, it would expose the government so badly, it would shame it so badly that indeed maybe changes would happen. Maybe not as radical as in Egypt, with people running into the streets. They’re not oppressed enough for this, or at least don’t feel oppressed enough. They should feel oppressed enough to do this running into the streets. But that moment doesn’t exist yet in America. But if that running in the streets would at least happen in the press, and then the media in general, then, my God, this could happen, this could do things.”

With America’s foreign wars, it seems Americans just don’t feel it. “That’s true. Naturally, and especially since we have a conscripted army and not a people’s army. In the Vietnam War, people were certainly interested in their sons’ dead bodies. So that was a very different public reaction than this war is the professionals doing their horrible jobs, and you get a little sort of shiver over what you hear, and then it’s packed away, and another horror happens. Yeah, it’s quite different.”

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

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