Peter Schumann

Peter Schumann, photo Clare Dolan. used with permission.

Website: The Bread and Puppet Theater

Peter Schumann, cofounder of the internationally acclaimed Bread and Puppet Theater,  is the person who invented the term "cranky" and he is credited with starting the crankie/cranky revival in the 1960s.

I wrote to Peter a few years back and sent him one of my matchbox crankies. I asked him how he got started making crankys. At that time Peter was busy getting ready to leave on tour.  His wife, Elka was kind enough to interview him for me and mail a handwritten letter to me which I cherish!    My sincere gratitude!  The following is that letter.

Q. How did you get started with crankies?

Photo - Randy McMahon, used with permission.

Peter: We moved to NYC, East 4th St. between Aves C and D, in 1961. The super of our building was Richard Tyler, artist and printer. He and his wife Dorothy Tyler, invited me to the Catskills, and we went to upstate New York to shoot a movie, The Quest. Dorothy put the trailer/credits on a paper scroll - discarded newsprint-, and that gave me the idea of cranky-making, its potential, and I called it a cranky.

The Rat Movie

This photo is from the French book Le Bread and Puppet Theater, by Francoise Kourilsky, 1971. The photo shows Peter Schumann (with the pointer) and Bob Ernstthal performing The Rat Movie. Photo by Karl Bissinger.

Peter: One of my first was called The Rat Movie, about life on the Lower East Side. In 1962 we (family) lived in Vermont, worked at the Putney School, and I made a vertical cranky called The Battle, basically about the brutality of Western Civilization (made into a short black and white film by Lowell Naeve). These early crankies were done on scrolls of paper backed with plastic (for lining shelves?), found in the garage. I performed them on the lower East Side, with Spanish translation done by Byrd (Burt?) Aponte (very proper man in a suit and tie), a Puerto Rican club leader. We stood there with flag and an American flag, and performed. There was a review in the National Guardian, (a left wing tabloid) about The Rat Movie. Another cranky was Rinaldini the Robber, and a cranky was used in the Bread and Puppet Christmas Story (performed 1962 until the early 1980s) to show Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem.


Why did you stop doing crankies?

Mother Earth. Photo, Randy McMahon, used with permission.

Peter: Maybe because of cantastorias, I wanted to do big things, big sizes.

Mother Earth, photo, Randy McMahon


Article: In the Mood for Crankies

Article: A 36 Year Retrospective of the Bread and Puppet Theater Calendars

Website: Bread & Puppet Theater

Book: Stefan Brecht, "Bread and Puppet Theater, Vol. 1", New York: Routledge, 1988.

Book: Victor H. Mair, "Painting and Performance" Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1988.

This webpage was created in 2021, Sue Truman