Bread and Puppet Theater has acquired a 23-acre property that borders its farm in Glover, enabling the Northeast Kingdom institution to expand in the coming months. The land, which includes a four-bedroom home and a massive steel barn, had belonged to Erik Porter, who grew up next door to the theater and later bought the 23-acre property down the road from his boyhood home.
“We’re thrilled that it was something they wanted and could use. It just seems to make sense,” said Porter, a roadie for the Dave Matthews Band, who now lives in Derby. “There were other offers (to purchase the property) but as a neighbor of 50 years, I obviously wanted to help with their plans.”
Porter said he had planned on turning the barn, which is nearly 10,000 square feet, into commercial storage units. The structure, which was erected by the previous owner for veal calf production, is near Bread and Puppet’s Pine Forest, where small performances take place. The forest is also home to memorials for puppeteers who have died and is the final resting place for Elka Schumann, the co-founder of Bread and Puppet and the wife of its director, Peter Schumann.
“It’s just what we need at this moment,” Schumann told VTDigger on Monday. “I didn't expect it. It just happened upon us. We needed archival space. We needed print shop space. We needed gallery space and, all of a sudden, it’s there. It’s fantastic.”
Schumann has been in New York City since Dec. 4, preparing for the theater’s annual holiday run at The Theater for the New City. The run will conclude the fall tour of the theater's traveling company, which has performed in some 80 venues across the U.S.
According to the real estate tracking website Zillow, the sale of the property closed at $459,000 on Nov. 22. In mid-September, Betsy Day of West Glover was on Zillow looking for a place to live on behalf of a college teacher and noticed the Porter property listed. The listing referred to Glover as a “quaint village” and added, “By the way, Bread and Puppet Theatre is in the neighborhood.”
Day, who volunteers with the Bread and Puppet Press, emailed two of the theater’s board members, alerting them to the real estate opportunity. Two days later, Day went to see the property with husband Randy Williams, Peter Schumann and Schumann’s daughters, Maria and Tamar. After the preliminary papers were signed, a contractor was hired to paint the barn’s roof on Oct. 1.
Schumann did not waste any time. He went to work converting one of the barn’s 1,800-square-foot bays into an exhibition space, where he hung many of the large works he paints on old bedsheets. The 88-year-old theater director has been banging out one of these paintings a day, according to Williams. Schumann’s son, Max, called the barn’s exhibition space “another outlet for all of his manic creative energy and output. He’s been on this tear, making huge amounts of booklets and bedsheet paintings. His production just seems to be going up instead of down.”
Day told Schumann’s daughters that the new barn was the shot in the arm the theater needed at this point in time.
“We think we have added 10 years to Peter’s life,” Day said she told the daughters. “He is like a little boy with a new toy.”
Last week the theater sent out a letter to raise money for its sustainability fund and announcing the sale. According to the letter, the theater’s fundraising goal is $500,000 and an anonymous donor has given $150,000 toward the development of an archival facility in the new barn that would house documents and publications, as well as audio and video recordings.
The new barn is also expected to be used to store puppets, props and sets. It will likely serve as an additional rehearsal and performing space. The Bread and Puppet Press, which produces the posters and banners that bring in much of the theater’s revenue, may also make use of space in the new barn. Hillary Savage, manager of the press, said in the last year demand has increased, adding “We’re trying to keep up with demand.”
The four-bedroom house will aid Schumann’s plan for a new model of the theater. The hope is to keep a resident company in Glover to perform local and regional shows while another company tours around the U.S. and abroad.
It’s too soon to know whether the theater group’s many supporters will come through on the fundraising request. But in a public radio-style inducement to contribute, donations will be rewarded with a series of premiums, including the 2023 Elka calendar, a signed copy of Peter Schumann's latest “bookwork” and a large masonite-cut print signed by Schumann.
“A half-million dollars is a lot of money and of course it’s a challenge to raise that much,” said Bread and Puppet board member Stephan Cantor, co-owner of Deep Mountin Maple in West Glover. “But we feel confident that the theater has so many friends around the country and around the world who will rise to the occasion.”
The theater has a lot of good will in that quaint village of Glover. Two individuals kicked in a total of $8,000 to pay for the roof of the new barn to be painted before the winter arrived.