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  • rileysoloner

Field Study, pt. II

On Friday I wrote about my hopes and intentions to shake out the analysis-paralysis cobwebs by getting out from behind the screen and actually experiencing what I've been writing about.

In less than a day, opportunity knocked. I read a post from Bread and Puppet Theater calling for volunteers to perform in Sunday's March to End Fossil Fuels. I had heard of Bread and Puppet before. This summer, I made friends with folks who spoke so highly of their work, craftsmanship, moving theatrics and messages.

The assignment was easy: This is a performance art piece acknowledging the Pentagon as the Earth's biggest contributor to the fossil fuel industry. Show up on 57th street wearing all white and be ready to hold banners or operate large puppets.

By the time I arrived, Bread and Puppet had moved a couple blocks South. I see a clog of thousands standing on 8th Avenue. I put on my red nose and crooked sunglasses. I wore them for the whole march, and it felt good. Public clowning in a protest march context among complete strangers frees me up to participate with lightness and courage. I found small, quick moments to clown in between large stretches of just doing the assigned work in the B&P piece. Maybe one day I'll look back and regret being stubborn about wearing my nose in an otherwise striking and evocative anti-militarism protest march demonstration. But, ya know what? I think it's positive and necessary to represent in clown at this type of thing. Maybe "I would have stopped if somebody told me to" is wrong, because I'm passing the buck to a stranger asking me to tone it down. But I remained observant, mindful to not overstep boundaries.

Anyway. Back to my arrival. I was offered a banner and waved over to the banner-holder section, where I was taught the piece's chant:

What is war?

What is war?

What is war?

Who Profits?

Who Dies?

While marching, we would sync up to the rhythm of a B&P'er with a booming parade drum. Our banners raised high, then lowering them with the chant of each line. After Who Dies? us banner holders dropped to a crouch, banners held high. This is when the dancing skeleton group behind us (skull-masked marchers, puppeting cardboard skeletons) would rise up in with ghoulish cheers. Then, all attention shifted to the towering Grim Reaper pole puppet, complete with swinging scythe and bobbing skeleton horse head. Alongside the Grim Reaper, massive paper mache hands propped on poles reached to the heavens. Banners of cloaked figures swayed.

The chant made me think of a storytelling teacher telling me, art isn't about answering questions. It's about circling them. It felt inspiring, cathartic and fun to march and loudly circle those questions for a day. I feel lucky I asked myself the participation question and kept myself open to finding a clue that led to that moment. I thought about Grim Reaper-obsessed young Riley, who whose jaw would have dropped to see such a cool demonstration. It felt like progress to make a small introduction with a radical art group that creates beautiful, poignant work. More connections for the pile.

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