Puppetry and Protest: An exploration of theater as a response to social issues stemming from the Vietnam Conflict

Plan Author

  • Peter Scibak, 2015

Fields of Concentration

  • Theater

Sample Courses

  • Course: Three Masks and a Chorus: Greek Tragedy in Translation
  • Course: Staging the Apocolypse
  • Tutorial: Alternative Theater in America
  • Tutorial: Politics and Performance in mid-20th Century America

Project Description

An adapted, directed, and staged production of Amlin Gray’s How I Got That Story

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Charlotte Meehan, Wheaton College


This Plan explores theater as a response to social issues stemming from the Vietnam Conflict, with particular focus on the Bread and Puppet Theater Company. The first paper investigates how the Vietnam War provided vibrant source material for the fledgling theater company, and the antiwar movement provided them with exposure. The second piece is a reworking of Sophocles’ play Ajax in the context of Vietnam War atrocities, showing how truly timeless this classic Greek tragedy can be. The final component is the adaptation of Amlin Gray’s play How I Got That Story, including an informal reflection on the motivations for staging this play.


Prior to the rise of the Peace Movement Bread and Puppet’s pieces often included aspects that addressed sweeping injustices. Shows such as Story of the World and Elements of World War II contained small-scale depictions of bombings and scenes of war but these techniques were hardly the focal point of the pieces and instead provided further context to a separate theme. It wasn’t until Bread and Puppet began engaging in street agitation and focusing on the precise issues of the time that Schumann’s vision for his troupe began to take shape.

How fare you, Lieutenant? I see blood and sweat mingled on your face. Were you successful?

Colonel Althena! Welcome! What a pleasant surprise on this glorious day! Your orders have been heeded and the village of Thuy Tranh will no longer harbor VC villainy.

Excellent. But tell me, did you paint the village well in Viet Cong blood?

I did.

Vietnam is often referred to as the ‘televised war’. Thanks to this distinction I was able to compile complimentary archival footage to help ground the production in the real. It’s difficult to realistically depict a bomber jet using a bare stage. However, by combining stock footage of actual Vietnam bomber jets with the sounds of the historical event, I created a depiction that is both immediate and effective.


The most memorable moment while working on Plan is when it all suddenly came together. Before that moment I felt that my components weren’t quite speaking to one another. I had an overarching idea of what I was trying to say but, by combining disparate elements, I was unsure of whether or not that idea was coming through. Then, while talking through the elements of my Plan with my sponsors prior to orals, the through-line that I had hoped was present was brought up by one of the professors. They had understood what I was aiming for and thought that it had come through pretty clearly. The through-line was further reinforced during my orals when my outside examiner spoke to the three elements of my Plan as one concrete idea. It was an extremely satisfying moment for me.

My Plan stems from a curiosity regarding theatrical representations of the Vietnam Conflict. Specifically I was interested in how various protest theatre movements responded to the events and issues of the time. In my cursory research into these protest theatre groups, I found reference to three distinct methods of theatre that intrigued me: radical theatre, theatre of abstraction, and documentary theatre. As such, my Plan of Concentration incorporates elements of all of these methods.

The most essential part of my Plan paper would not have been possible had I not worked with Brenda Foley in the Theater Seminar in Original Source Research. The class consisted of myself and two other students, and the one-on-one nature and focus on independent Plan-related research proved to be one of the most important experiences I had at Marlboro College. This class showed me how to seek out in-depth primary sources from a varied pool of locations ranging from a museum devoted to Bread and Puppet to three different academic institutions that housed material in their special collections. I learned how to dig through archives and find materials that weren’t readily apparent but became the foundation for my work. Without the skill sets learned in that seminar, or the unwavering support of Brenda Foley, my Plan paper would not have had nearly as much depth or scope.