William Harris Papers – Bread and Puppet Theater

Authored by Rio Aucena

Bread and Puppet Theater production

Archbishop Oscar Romero (giant puppet) from the Bread and Puppet Theater’s new production, The Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

When historical pictures are unearthed, these items not only tell us about our past but connects us together as a community. Some of these go a step further and leave messages that inspire and instill worthwhile values such as love, respect and service.

While perusing Marymount Manhattan College’s William Harris Papers, an image of a giant puppet caught my attention. Equally attention-grabbing was the note attached behind the black and white photograph stating the snapshot was from the Bread and Puppet Theater’s new production entitled, “The Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.” With such a curious theater group name and an interesting production subject, my interest was piqued.

In 1963, Peter Schumann founded Bread and Puppet Theater in New York City which melded rod-puppet and hand puppet shows with sculpture, music, dance and language. [1] What of the reference to bread in their name? According to Schumann [2],

We give you a piece of bread with the puppet show because our bread and theater go together. For a long time the theater arts have been separated from the stomach. Theater was entertainment. Entertainment was meant for the skin. Bread was meant for the stomach. We would like you to take your shoes off when you come to our puppet show . . . [and] we want you to understand that theater is . . . not the place of commerce you think it is, where you pay to get something . . . It is more like bread, more like a necessity.

Each year, the Bread and Puppet Theater puppets grew bigger and bigger and eventually the Theater relocated to Vermont in 1970 and, to this day, is still going strong, guided by it’s philosophy of living and working within it’s means, receiving no direct government or corporate funding, relying on intern and volunteer participation, and of course, still serving bread to all it’s performance attendants. [3]

Annually, Bread and Puppet Theater would make seasonal performances one of which highlighted the life of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero. [4] Romero originally steered clear from politics but that changed when one of his priests; who was urging poor farmworkers to demand better wages; was murdered by the Salvadorian police. [5] After this, Romero began dedicating his life to fighting the injustice of the military government; controlled by the rich; upon the poor citizens by vocally calling for the end to the violence. [6] On March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass at church, Romero was assassinated. [7] Two weeks before his death, Romero prophetically stated, “If I am killed, I shall rise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility . . . Let my death . . . be for my people’s liberation and as a witness of hope in the future” and in 1990, the United Nations mediated a peace treaty finally ending the violence in Romero’s beloved El Salvador. [8]

With a collection of 96 scripts, 4,450 folders of clippings and a collection of photographs, there are still many items within the William Harris Papers waiting to be unearthed. [9] I hope this photograph has enriched your life and will inspire you to connect with others in love, respect and service be it as simply as sharing bread like the Bread and Puppet Theater or as grand as standing up for human rights like Archbishop Oscar Romero.


[1] “About Bread and Puppet,” Bread and Puppet Theater, accessed March 4, 2016, http://breadandpuppet.org/about-bread-and-puppet.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bread and Puppet Board of Directors, “About B&P’s 50 Year History,” Bread and Puppet Theater, accessed March 4, 2016, http://breadandpuppet.org/50th-anniversary-2/about-b-ps-50-year-history.

[4] “About Bread and Puppet,” Bread and Puppet Theater.

[5] Jonah Winter, Peaceful Heroes (New York: Arthur Levine Books, 2009), .

[6] Laura Scandiffio, People Who Said No: Courage Against Suppression (Buffalo: Annick Press, 2012), 108-114.

[7] Robert Royal, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2000), .

[8] Scandiffio, People Who Said No: Courage Against Suppression, 123.

[9] “Archives,” Marymount Manhattan College, accessed May 9, 2016, http://www.mmm.edu/offices/library/archives.php.