The history of the Diggers in 1649 is the improbable basis for a dramatic production by the Bread and Puppets Theater, an experimental troupe based in Vermont that uses masks and puppets to entertain and educate people. The troupe bills itself as providing “cheap art and political theater,” adding that it is “one of the oldest, nonprofit, self-supporting theatrical companies in the country.”
As reported by Greg Cook of WBUR, the Boston public radio station, the Bread and Puppets Theater recently produced a show called “The Possibilitarians,” a counterpoint to the reactionary Parliamentarians of the time. The show was described as an “epic and raucous pageant” about the 17th Century English radicals called the Diggers, who were seeking to build an alternative order to the proto-capitalism of its time, protesting in particular the private ownership of land.
The Diggers have been wonderfully chronicled by historians such as Christopher Hill (The World Turned Upside Down and Left-Wing Democracy In the English Civil War). Of note is a recently published biography, Gerard Winstanley: The Diggers Life and Legacy (Pluto Press).
It’s great to see such history resurrected through an innovative kind of street theater. The Bread and Puppets Theater was founded in 1963 by German immigrant Peter Schumann. The troupe quickly became known for its massive papier-mâché puppets and for giving its audiences fresh baked break at the end of performances. In the '60s and '70s the theater often mounted performances/protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear arms race, among other issues. As WBUR put it, the Bread and Puppets Theater “vividly merged radical ‘60s theater with the alchemy and magic of traditional ritual, public pageantry and folk art.”