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Students to explore puppetry, politics in Vermont

While their classmates begin high-tech summer jobs in air-conditioned offices and laboratories, six MIT students will travel to rural Vermont next week to sculpt papier mache puppets, write skits, walk on stilts, bake bread and exchange ideas about art and politics.

The students, all majoring in the sciences and engineering but involved in theater at MIT, will join Latin American theater artists for a workshop led by Peter Schumann and his awarding-winning Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover, VT, from June 15-28. They are 1997 graduates Vassilike Koumandou (biology) and Maria-Elena Mayorga (mathematics); Nicky Leifer, who will be a senior in chemistry; Ben Davis, who will be a junior in mechanical engineering; Joylette Portlock, who will be a junior in biology; and operations research graduate student Ryan Rifkin.

The MIT students will be joined by 20 theater artists from the International School of Theater of Latin America and the Caribbean (Escuela Internacional de Teatro de la America Latina y el Caribe--EITALC), a pedagogical institution that focuses on fostering exchange between theater artists throughout the American continent.

They will live and work for two weeks in an intensive, bilingual camp, exploring the practice of political theater while creating a performance piece with members of one of the oldest nonprofit, self-supporting theaters in the country. Based since 1970 in rural northern Vermont, Bread & Puppet is known for its dramatic outdoor shows and parades--based on political and social themes--which feature huge handmade puppets and masks, hand-painted signs and banners, stilt-walking and improvised music.

The participants will apply their new skills in mask and puppet building and manipulation, music-making and movement experimentation to representations of current Latin American sociopolitical issues, said Brenda Cotto-Escalera, assistant professor in music and theater arts and a coordinator of the Bread & Puppet/MIT program. This dual focus "will allow students to connect artistic practice with political activism, mastery of skills with knowledge of history and culture, and creativity with consciousness," bringing them "a step closer to the holistic education that MIT should give them," she said.


Their work in Vermont will culminate in a free outdoor theatrical production, "Papier Mache vs. Neo-Liberalism"--featuring Bread & Puppet's trademark colorful, larger-than-life puppets and masks--on Sunday, June 29 at 3:30pm on the Kresge Oval (rain location is La Sala de Puerto Rico on the second floor of the Stratton Student Center). A question-and-answer session with Bread & Puppet founder and director Peter Schumann will follow the performance, along with an informal parade.

For more information, call x3-8089 (English) or x3-1182 (Spanish).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 1997.

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