Organizational Art/Performance Art: Bread and Bread

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

This summer I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks living in rural New Hampshire. For over a year, I have been engaged in deep culture building work with the Orchard School and Community Center. These past several weeks, its founder and my friend Eleanor Elbers ran a summer camp on its land. I took over her bread delivery route so she could focus on the kids. The bread is from Orchard Hill Breadworks, an artisanal bakery run by her son Noah that sources local ingredients and serves much of southern New Hampshire and Vermont.

My bread route crisscrossed the Connecticut River, taking me to about a dozen different small towns to deliver fresh baked deliciousness to small village stores and farmstands. There were many details I had to master in a short time: from packing the van efficiently to learning the route to knowing how to display the goods so they would sell well to remembering extra details like picking up produce to use for Breadworks’ next community fundraising pizza night.

After my first few runs, I sensed the neurons in my brain making new connections as I learned the country roads and even started to improvise my route when I would make some inevitable mistake and have to rejigger my deliveries. For someone who trucks with words and group process, it felt amazing to handle bread and a van, to be of concrete service to the larger community, to Breadworks, and to camp and Eleanor.

Selfie in front of well packed bread van!
Selfie taken after packing the bread van!

In other bread-related news, I had the great pleasure of being of consultative support to Bread and Puppet Theater earlier in the summer. If you have been a longtime reader of these musings, you may know that I have a long history with the group, having interned with them while in college and performing with them when they come to New York City.

One of the benefits of visiting and revisiting a group and experiencing it from all different angles over multiple decades is that you get to see how you change, the group changes, and how the chemistry between those two bodies change.

Folks at Bread and Puppet are in the process of developing a shared understanding of how to be an anti-racist theater and level up in their practices of racial equity and inclusion. After they participated in AORTA’s Uprooting White Supremacy workshop, I spent time with them unpacking their learning and helping them develop next steps for moving forward. A puppeteer wrote me afterwards, “You allowed us to engage and hold space for hard discussions in a way that was deeply meaningful and transformative.”

There was something else I was working on while at Orchard Hill. I created an original theater piece for the first time in nearly 25 years! Titled “Bread & Bread,” it was a meditation in six parts on the staff of life: on learning my bread route and sharing my history with Bread and Puppet Theater. I performed it twice, debuting the tent I had been living in as the Wall Tent Theater and using the grassy area in front of it as both installation site and audience seating. I shared a part of me –my theater performer self—and enlivened the space and land in a different way.

This was deep, funny, site-specific work for a very specific audience: bakers and community members. It was a mirroring back of what I had imbibed, a song of gratitude. Folks were moved, energized, and inspired.

I was moved, energized, and inspired, as well. The next morning I woke up and took myself to breakfast at the South Acworth Village Store, a community run cooperative. I was awash with ideas and excitement. Maybe I would come back and create seasonal works on different parts of the land. Maybe I would craft a new consultative offering where I am in an immersive residence with an organization or community for a few weeks and then create a performance that feeds back to them. Call it “Outside In.”

Who knows. What I do know is it was incredible to dance with my theater self again. I knew how to do what I wanted to do and had nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. Eleanor marveled at the intimacy of both my creative and consultative work. “That was me, speaking through you,” she said, and I saw in that exact moment some of the purposes of my work: mirroring back, elevating, making the mundane sacred and the sacred mundane.

A perfect summer.

I did organizational art with Bread and Puppet.

And I did performance art with Orchard Hill.

Bread and Bread.

Thanks for rea

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