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Performer Turns Photographer To Capture Bread And Puppet Theater

Mark Dannenhauer's photo of a Bread and Puppet Theater pageant at the troupe's Vermont property. (Courtesy of the artist)

Mark Dannenhauer’s photo of a Bread and Puppet Theater pageant at the troupe’s Vermont property. (Courtesy of the artist)

Vermont’s legendary political troupe, Bread and Puppet Theater, marks its 50th anniversary with performances of its giant papier-mâché puppets at the Boston Center for the Arts Cyclorama from Jan. 24 to 27. But if that’s not soon enough for you, check out Shutesbury photographer Mark Dannenhauer’s photos of the troupe in “Many Faces of Art and Activism” at Food for Thought Books Collective (106 North Pleasant St., Amherst, through Jan. 13).

“I’m trying to get both the performer’s view on performing,” Dannenhauer says, “as well as the audience’s view.”

This dual perspective comes out of his experience performing with Bread and Puppet Theater from 1971 until the early 1980s, and occasionally since. He also performed at the first Boston First Night in 1976 with Northeast Kingdom Puppet Theater, which he co-founded in Vermont with Mary Eldridge around 1975. Via his puppetry group Ninots, which he launched in Boston with his wife Jane Urban in 1986, he’s performed and led puppetry workshops all over Massachusetts. And that lead to him offering landscape interpretation workshops using puppetry and photography to help people “use the materials of the then emerging digital world to allow people to interpret their own communities.”

Mark Dannenhauer's photograph of Bread and Puppet Theater performing at its home in Vermont. (Courtesy of the artist)

Mark Dannenhauer’s photograph of Bread and Puppet Theater performing at its home in Vermont. (Courtesy of the artist)

“I first approached photography as a tool for landscape interpretation,” he says. But one thing lead to another and, “I began to become interested in the form itself. I gradually began to shoot performances.”

The exhibit features some 50 photos of Bread and Puppet performances on farm fields and inside a barn up at its home base in Glover, Vermont, as well as in Boston. The show also includes shots of the annual fall Honk Festival of radical marching bands in Somerville, at which Dannenhauer has played his soprano saxophone with the Bread and Puppet Band.

“The photography was a way to stay involved in work that I’d done for three decades,” Dannenhauer says. Then he adds, “It started to seem more like a little stage inside the camera. And it also is like jazz in that you’re doing spontaneous composition in the middle of a flow of activity. So it was similar in a way to directing puppet performances.”

Bands perform during the 2011 Honk festival cruise of Boston Harbor, as captured in Mark Dannenhauer's photo. (Courtesy of the artist)

Bands perform during the 2011 Honk festival cruise of Boston Harbor, as captured in Mark Dannenhauer’s photo. (Courtesy of the artist)

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