Hi! It’s been awhile. But for great reasons! I’ve been working on lots of projects in the last few months. Here’s a little about one of them.
Canby High has a team of about 25 dancers who participate in large dance competitions around the region. The dances are performed on a large gymnasium floor, with some sort of scenery specific to the concept of the piece. They have been working with choreographer James Healey for the past few years, and have made some stunning work. This last October, we began a conversation about masks they could wear… on the backs of their heads.
The concept had to do with shifting perception and multiple ways of seeing. So my goal was to conceive of a design that would come alive on the performer with all of the limbs moving slightly differently to how we are accustomed.
To communicate over digital media, I took shots of the mask from a variety of perspectives.
It was decided that the show would have three designs, but multiple copies of that design.
I used an existing mask to try out a helmet strategy for wearing. We scrapped it.
James shared some images and we talked about the feeling the masks should have. I sculpted with these emotions in mind, and also tried to capture the faces in a series of planes, slightly abstracting them.
Neoprene glows nicely when backlit by the sun!
Another strategy for wearing. Closer…
We knew the rest of the design would be in blacks, grays, and whites, in keeping the conceptual element of one way vs. many ways. It was decided that I would form the masks, and the arts students at Canby would paint them using my advice.
So many faces!
Priming the neoprene to prepare for painting.
An inspirational image. The director wanted to incorporate some reflective surfaces on the masks to match the costuming. (Thanks Lauren Adams of White Bike Ceramics!)
The students explored how best to paint the masks. High contrast was necessary for the sculpture to ‘read’ in the large dance space.
The dancers came into my studio early in the process to determine how the masks would need to be arranged to carry out the choreography. They were so much fun! And they were very excited about the masks… which I think you can see in some of the photos below.
From our initial designs on paper, we sculpted our masks in clay. Then we made a mold, did a test run in carta pesta (an Italian papier mache), and made modifications as necessary. We then used all of our research to sculpt the wooden matrix, which was used as the base to shape our leather. This entire process took a month. It’s such a wonderful experience to be able to take the time to concentrate on a project like this without other pressures.
After finishing the masks, we met with Giorgio Bongiovanni of the Piccolo Teatro di Milano to investigate the performance of commedia masks, and later, our own. Fabian Gysling of Ècole Gysling was also there to help us find our characters and play in the masks. The slideshow above is from the public demonstration of our work. Luckily, the theater was air-conditioned.
A Two Week Interval
After completing the Sartori workshop at the CMSG, I had a little time to kill before my next workshop. I spent an extra day sketching masks at the Museo Internazionale della Maschera Amleto e Donato Sartori in Abano Terme. Next, I went to a farmhouse in Chiesanuova to visit my classmate Barbara, and together we traveled to San Miniato to visit mask maker Matteo Destro. Afterwards I traveled north to Malcesine, where I visited costume designer Fabio Toblini. I regrouped with friends to see Marmolada in the Dolomiti mountain range (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Finally, I explored historic Roma. It wasn’t built in a day, and you certainly can’t see it in three (especially in the summer heat). However, I was able to strategize a tour of Caravaggio paintings and some awesome historic buildings (e.g. the Basilica San Clemente) with the kind help of the friends and family of a fellow Portlander! (Molte grazie a Arturo, Anna, Riccardo, Guya, and Francesco!)
Here’s a slideshow sampler of my travels!
Familie Flöz Sommer Akademie
My other study was a two-week course in mask performance and the creation of performance material in ensemble with the Berlin-based company Familie Flöz. Our classes were held in the Abbazia San Giusto, a refurbished monastery on the outskirts of the small town of Tuscania. When I told people in Italy where I was going, they (reasonably) assumed I was mispronouncing “Toscana” (aka the large region we call “Tuscany”). It only confuses the matter that Tuscania is quite near the border of Toscana.
Abano Terme, in the Veneto Region
Tuscania, in the Lazio Region
Italy, In the California Region
The Familie Flöz is pretty unique. They create original, wordless, character-centered mask performances that often play in a clown-like sense of comedy. (Check out a short film of one of their first shows in 1995, and also a trailer for their show that just swept the Edinburgh Fringe off its feet). I was very curious to find out how they devise their work and the techniques they employ to bring these full-face masks to life.
Though some students came to study how to build masks, and others came for performance training, we all began the work together each morning with a movement class. What an amazing and perfect way to start the day! Apparently birds thought so too, because they would frequently find their way into the studio—screens on windows were rare—and take a long time to find their exit.
Courtyard of the Abbazia San Giusto
A view from the tower.
The understructures for mask making were made of flower pots.
The first meal together.
Marcel explores his character through a walk outdoors.
Evening by the pool.
Me with some of the company.
Sunset over tomato fields.
Part of the molding process utilized silicone.
The first four days were conceived as a quick introduction to all of the subjects we could study more in depth beginning on day five. Not only was it a great way to survey the kind of work we would do, it also gave us an opportunity to see which of the company members had a teaching style that worked for us. In the end, I focused on Alexander Technique & Neutral Mask, Character Building in Full Face Mask, and Devising & Directing Mask Theater.
We spent a lot of time both in and out of the mask as ways to approach building both characters and scenes.Character interviews, partnered movement studies, and improvisations all flipped between these two modes. Another important idea in the beginning of the work was to remove the pressure of producing something—this pressure often only stifles the breath of creativity, and the relative value of a given improvisation can be determined the day after.
Day Off! We went to Tuscania
On the way we saw the donkeys at the lavender farm
Q&A night with the company. Also the night there was a fire and the electricity went out.
The mask I worked with to devise a scene with my group
Daily watermelon break!
A shy duo encounters visitors on the final night.
Curtain call for all the scenes performed on the final night of the workshop
The mask making group trying on their new creations.
We ended the workshop with a large celebration. This included masked characters walking around the grounds of the Abbey as visitors entered, followed by a number of short scenes —including the one our group created about a composer finding inspiration in his everyday surroundings. Then, of course, lots of food and dancing!
When I thought back over my experience, I thought a lot about what conditions made for my best work over the summer. None of these are necessarily surprising, but the combination of these things was important.
Doing one thing at a time
Working in community
Being in a supportive culture
Proactive learning: pursuing questions vs waiting to receive wisdom
Listening to my intuition
Daily movement practice / Intentional connection with the body
Remaining emotionally available
Exchange with other cultures
The same might be said of life in general.
Many thanks ! The study with Familie Flöz was made possible in part by a professional development grant from :
Welcome to my first blog from Italia. In short, it’s amazing! The study is engrossing, the people wonderful, a wine costs just a couple euro.Because of difficultly in previous years of the workshop, we aren’t allowed to take many pictures during the workshop, so instead of lots of mask process photos, you’ll enjoy shots of everyday life, gorgeous scenery, and lovely people. I’m sharing a flat for the month with another student from New York, and across the hall are wonderful artists from Firenze and Toronto. There are also more students from Italy, Spain, Mexico and the US.
A view of the kitchen balcony from my bedroom balcony
A view of apricots just a few feet from my bedroom balcony
The best sort of coffee machine for the studio. Though I dislike orzo as a coffee alternative. ;P
<INTERPOLATION> Why do cities names changes in different languages? As in, why do we call Firenze “Florence”? It’s a proper name, not a random vocabulary word. Or why do we call Venezia, “Venice”?or Deutschland ,”Germany”? or Nippon “Japan”? I can imagine changing the spelling in your language to make the same sounds, but actually changing the name? It makes more sense to me to call places what they call themselves, but that’s not how languages and culture work apparently. Or is it? After briefly searching the internet, the reason for difference between endonyms (what you call yourself) and exonyms (what others call you) often stem from the evolution of language itself. Firenze is the Italian derivation of the Latin Florentia, but Florence was the English derivation, and Florenz the German. So maybe we did try the spelling trick way back when, but the world changed and language didn’t. Still, why can’t we be on the same page about this? </INTERPOLATION>
Trying to design a mask with planes
Trying out a mask design in a new method of papier mache. It will be a study for my upcoming work in leather.
The Colli Euganei, just south of Abano Terme. Fourteen other small towns are connected to these hills which inspired poets and bring forth wine.
View from the Riviera Albertino Mussato of some houses that would have been outside the 1300s wall of Padova, but inside the city wall of the 1500s
Basilica San Antonio
As I said, the work is interesting and challenging. There is often an interpreter, and when there is not, many of the students are multilingual—so the ideas aren’t too difficult to grasp. You can really see and feel the inheritance of trained sculptors in this work. It’s not just actors who make masks—it’s artists who bring their knowledge of materials, sculpting tools and processes and strong visual arts skills and concepts to the work of theatrical mask.
Sarah Sartori and Paola Piizzi, leaders of the workshop
The muses on the ceiling, upstairs at Caffe Pedrocchi
We have been doing studies in preparation for making of the leather mask. The traditional forms didn’t use paint to help augment the shaping of light and form. Instead, they rely on the sculpting of panes in the mask to give a sense of volume and life to the performance object.
Tall towers showed prestige.
The sun plays beautifully over the planes of the former tribunal.
I enjoy the lack of signs.
Sunset, arches, and mopeds. 🙂
I find it really interesting to consider this idea. The planes reflect light. And the abstraction of the forms of a face into simpler planes also helps us project our own experience on to the mask. Puppets can work in much the same way. In Understanding Comics, the artist Scott McCloud noted that as a face is rendered in increasingly specific detail, the easier it is to regard that face as something outside of ourselves. But as a face is simplified in its depiction, the easier it is for the viewer to regard it with a feeling of identification… it becomes more of an Everyperson.
So with these simplified planes, perhaps it becomes more possible for the actor and the audience, together, bring the object to life.
Christo’s Floating Piers at Lago d’Iseo— a mask of space?
At some point—after I had already researched various mask traditions and teachers around the world, and after I had already decided how to focus my next period of study, and after I had already begun strategizing and planning my trip—I realized something significant.
My first study in culture and mask traditions had brought me to Bali. Not too long after, I had the serendipitous and fantastic opportunity to work as a volunteer mask creator in India. And now, in just a couple of weeks, I am headed to research mask styles and performance techniques in Italy.
I am doing that rarely attempted feat: The Reverse Eat, Pray, Love.
Who is the reverse of Julia Roberts? And will that actor get to play me in the film? Where is the emoji for “fingers crossed”?
Flippancy aside for the moment, this is another great step in my do-it-yourself master’s degree in mask making and mask performance. By pursuing fluency in various international mask traditions, I grow as an artist and educator in my community and beyond. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m studying this summer!
For one month I will be in Abano Terme (outside of Padua) learning the art of leather mask making and “The Art of Mask in the Commedia Dell’Arte.” Donato Sartori, along with his father Amleto, helped to shape the understanding of theatrical mask play in contemporary western theater. They researched,investigated,and reinvented the commedia dell’arte, a masked, semi-improvised theater form that (A) featured the advent of women onstage, (B) utilized archetypes/stock characters, and (C) has had long-lasting effects on contemporary comedy.
Amleto Sartori worked among the highly influential minds of European physical theater and Donato carried on the tradition. Their work in neutral masks is also unparalleled. In 1979 Donato co-founded the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali with Paola Piizzi and Paolo Trombetta to further investigate the mask in performance and space.
My work is indebted to the Sartori. In the past couple of years, I have been further researching the masks of the commedia dell’arte tradition, directing movement for actors in commedia productions, and teaching performance classes in this style for youth and college students. This research has been accomplished through research in libraries and online and through practice in the studio and the classroom. It’s so refreshing and exciting—and important—to have a direct encounter with the artists and their work. It’s really the best way for me to learn. Although Donato passed away unexpectedly in late April, Paola and Sarah Sartori will be continuing their family’s tradition.
After about ten days travel and researching various mask museums around the country, I will travel to Tuscania, to study mask ensemble performance for two weeks with members of the Familie Flöz theater company. For 20 years, this Berlin-based international company has been solely dedicated to creating and touring original mask performance.
Here are some photos of their amazing work in wordless, full-faced mask theatre.
HOTEL PARADISO – 2006
HOTEL PARADISO – 2006
HAYDI! – 2014
My study will concentrate on the actor’s development of character in symbiosis with the mask, the creation and development of performance material without a literary basis, and work within an ensemble. It will be an energetic and organic movement training! Working inside this style of full mask promises interesting discoveries.
I will also spend time observing and interviewing mask maker Thomas Rascher to further understand how his work interacts and contributes to the development of plays and to the work of the company at large. The collective experiences and techniques of the Familie Flöz company—including the artistic directors, actors, and mask makers—will provide a unique and holistic immersion into mask theater.
I’ve already spoken about the more technical aspect of what I’ll be studying, and discussed a bit about what this trip means to me from an insider’s point of view. This blog is about those aspects, but it’s also but what lies beneath. Whether you’re walking in someone else’s shoes or putting on a new face, theater helps us understand each other and imagine our potential transformation.
Theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves.
In addition to creating masks for professional and educational productions, I also work as teaching artist in schools. It’s fascinating to see students uncover the possibility for change simply by donning a mask. Furthermore, I have witnessed that when we become engaged with the process of creatively making, we simultaneously become better at analyzing and interpreting the world around us. We are invited to question: How was that made? What was the intention behind the choices in that advertisement? Why is the law written that way?
And… fun! Masks can be extremely liberating and hilarious, and here is real value in sharing our joy and play. I mean, have you seen this video yet?!
Support My Journey
I believe in my work, and I believe in the value of exchange.
So in addition to the money I’ve saved, and the grants I’ve written, I have launched an online store to help fund my summer study. The masks I currently have in stock are now up for grabs. Every purchase you make will directly help me with food and transportation costs while abroad. You get a fun, transformative mask; I get lunch and train tickets. 🙂
If you don’t see the exact thing you need, and want to commission a set of commedia masks (or something else completely), email me and we’ll start a conversation.
And for those lovely souls out there who want to support the development of my work, but don’t want a mask at this time: there’s also a donation section in my store. I’m grateful for whatever you can contribute.
I’ll be posting about once a week to keep you informed of my progress!
Hello all! I’ve been blog-silent, but studio-busy… It’s been a great year of building shows, creating mask pieces for museums, selling masks at Mardi Gras, and making connections with mask lovers, performers and teachers all over. I’m pleased to announce another mask making workshop in Portland. See details below.
Design, sculpt, cast and paint your own mask!
Find new sources of creative inspiration, learn about the qualities that promote dynamic onstage play, and discover techniques for shaping a well-engineered character mask. You will leave the workshop with a plaster cast of your face and one painted mask.
“This workshop was really fun and informative, great for a beginner. I’d take it again- Tony is a great teacher!” — 2015 Mask Workshop Participant
This workshop is excellent for actors and performers, costume designers and mask enthusiasts at all levels of experience. Ages 18+
6–10 pm Friday, April 29
10am–7 pm Saturday, April 30
10am–7 pm Sunday, May 1
There will be an hour lunch break on Saturday and Sunday
Masks are awesome! Though they obscure part or all of the face, masks reveal so much more. Masks are powerful objects that inspire character and transform the people that wear them. They have a part in nearly every culture of the world, they show up in holidays like Halloween and Mardi Gras, and they are one of the original elements of theater as we know it today.
“I’d never realized the depth of faces before. I’ve started noticing expressions in a 3D way, and also the amazing contours of different faces… I now feel confident in trying my hand at making masks- before I would’ve ended up wasting tons of time trying to figure out the basic, and now I have a cast of my face and some good principles.”—2015 Mask Workshop Participant
The Mask Studio, NE Portland
$300. Cost for materials is included. A $50 non-refundable deposit is required upon registration. Check, PayPal, Square, Chase QuickPay accepted.
If you register by Monday, April 18, secure the early-bird price of $275.
TO ENROLL: Email me at email@example.com for more information and with any questions about the workshop.
Over the past 13 years, Tony Fuemmeler has designed masks for multiple productions on the
West Coast and across the country. Locally, he has designed and built masks for productions like the Drammy Award-winning The Snowstorm (Many Hats), The King Stag (Lewis and Clark College), The Velvet Sky, The Adding Machine (Theatre Vertigo), The Storm in the Barn (Oregon Children’s Theatre), and Alice in Wonderland (Nomadic Theatre).
Tony began working with masks at the University of Kansas in a production of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. After graduation, he spent a year with In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (Minneapolis), and then pursued further training with Bruce Marrs and Joan Schirle at the Dell’Arte International School (Blue Lake, California). In 2014, Tony traveled to Ubud, Bali, to study with master mask carver Nyoman Setiawan, and then to Mumbai, India as a volunteer mask maker for The Maya Project (a collaboration of Teach For India and Artists Striving to End Poverty). Tony is based in Portland, Oregon.
This show was produced at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, and designed by Professor Michael Olich. I worked as the movement consultant for the actors and as an assistant designer/ builder of various mask and puppet items.
Seven months before the show would open, we met to share broad concepts, discuss exciting opportunities, and forecast potential hurdles. At this early point, it became clear that some things needed to be tried in a rough form to solidify the approach of the design.
One such element was the parrot. The first task was to figure out from where it would be manipulated. The parrot couldn’t be designed properly without that key information.
(click on each photo to see full size and captions)
The basic concept was tested in scrap foam, construction paper, masking tape and bamboo
Testing motion with upgraded materials
Feathers were cut from craft foam to match Durandarte’s color palette
A spray bottle and styrofoam ball were the understructure.
The aim of the design was to echo the elements in the human version of the character while providing a clear sense of focus for the puppet
A second parrot (with folded wings) for the scenes after the parrot was caught.
After trying a few options, including operating it from above, the most feasible and satisfying conclusion was to puppeteer from the stage deck.
At first I thought I might have to trigger the flapping of the wings through a mechanism on the control rod, but using gravity to activate the foam wings was pretty satisfying.
Stag & Bear Masks
The show was not cast until September, so many issues of scale had to be determined at that time. To know how big to make the mask, it was better to know the size of the body supporting that mask.
I thought topographically to create the individual pattern pieces for each layer of the stag mask.
One of the early trial material was this translucent coroplast.
Actors working in rehearsal masks are great sources of information as a builder.
An early test of the rings had them suspended by thin gauge wire. Eventually we used scrim for the dual purpose of masking and connection.
Stag 2.0: bigger, wider, and ringed.
The best solution for both stag and bear characters was a helmet mask—the stags were mounted on construction helmets, and the bear was, itself, a helmet.
I made trial pieces to test my construction methods.
Eventually, a bandsaw was a better solution for cutting out all the pieces. Exactos remained important for the connector slots, however.
Mask attached to helmet.
The layers of bear, from front to back.
I made this larger rehearsal mask for bear, which also allowed me try out a few different attachement methods.
The final bear used coroplast lined with metallic fabric, and scrim covered the open mouth.
I love how the planar design helps the mask transform in motion and contributes to the magic of the play.
The Laughing Statue
The script requires an enchanted statue that comes to life and laughs at key moments in the story. The designer had a clear idea of the look of the statue and a general sense of intended scale early in the process. Once the part was cast, I could determine measurements that would allow the actor’s face to be seen and permit her arms to reach the control mechanisms.
Strategizing internal structure
The scenery shop provided the first step , a steel ladder and on a wooden base, with two metal support ovals.
To help us all visualize, I constructed a hasty mockup in cardboard. It helped me strategize how I would eventually use the fabric-covered foam to create the cape.
My friend Bill helps by patterning the Y20 foam
Fine-tuning the contours
Anchoring the hood of the cape
The third strategy for hand construction worked. They were designed in a way parallel to “topographic” approach to the stags and bear.
Extra supports and surfaces were needed as I listened to the materials I was using.
The order of operations was difficult—and necessary—to determine, much like constructing a garment in a costume shop. The pieces were unwieldy, so it was very nice to have assistance from student workers.
Even then, it was a challenge! I was using many materials and adhesives that were relatively new to me, and doing so in a short amount of time. We would joke frequently about how every single solution created two new problems. It was a relief to have the advice and help of both my friends in the puppetry community and also my collaborators on the show as I learned about making this statue.
It’s amazing to me how much expression can be manifested with just a few movements. The only movements available to the actor were the flex in the statue’s hands and those of her own face, but she was able to find great levels and variety to play.
I had an amazing summer of work, which has lead right into some great projects this fall. I have been so occupied with doing, I haven’t had much time to share.. so here are just a few quick highlights!
The Creation Story: Lincoln Center Education & Carmen DeLavallade
After taking part in a second summer of Lincoln Center Education’s Teaching Artist Training program this July, I had an excellent opportunity to put those new and exciting ideas directly in to practice. Working for LCE at the nearby Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, I lead experiential workshops to introduce a group of seniors and a group of youth to the immense body of work of the late renaissance man Geoffrey Holder.
Then we moved on to the next phase of our work, in collaboration with the wonderful and imaginative Chris Green. Chris designed a number of puppet images (based on the work of Holder) to be used in a performance of The Creation Story by Holder’s wife and longtime collaborator, Carmen DeLavallade. Working with Chris, Carmen, and her team, I engaged the students in finding the movement to bring each of these images to life.
Hagoromo: Wendy Whelan at BAM
Right after that project, I was lucky enough to continue working with Chris as a rehearsal puppeteer in the early stages of development of Hagoromo. The show, premiering at the BAM Next Wave Festival in November 2015, is a huge collaborative undertaking. It stars Wendy Whelan, former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and features musicians, puppets, a mezzo-soprano, tenor, and a large chorus. Check out the NY Times article!
The story is adaptation of a Japanese Noh play. For this multidisciplinary opera, there are two life-size puppets based on body casts of the incredibly talented Wendy Whelan. Our initial job was to work out the kinks.
This summer I was hired by a production company in New York City to make five large fish puppets. This is their story.
The puppets needed were to be operated outdoors by a single person over the course of a few days. I needed to find a lightweight solution that could respond to wind and other variations in weather.
The build time was short, and I only had a week to make a prototype before heading to New York for other work. I asked Bill Holznagel, an excellent builder and performer for Tears of Joy and his own company Signal Light (if you live in Portland and haven’t seen their show Playtime with Pete and Randy, do yourself a favor).
An emphasis was put on the desired “flowiness” of the puppets by the client. In an earlier test, I’d looked to find that element with a combination of materials and performance. It’s show here in shadow, ’cause when you’re videoing your self, you make sacrfices.
Finalizing the Design
In New York, I worked with my friend Sam Hill, a fellow mask maker and sculptor, to finish the build. We worked in studio in Greenpoint to figure out the final details.
A few more tests…
We took the first puppet out to see how it moved in the outdoors. You can tell from the video noise that it was windy day.
Opera-matic, a collaborative arts group in Chicago, contacted me this last spring to make a mask for The Moon on the Lagoon, The community performance featured lullabies and the faces people find in the moon. What a cool idea!
Part of designing the mask is figuring how it will align with and/or cover the performer’s face. The producers knew they wanted the mouth of the performer available, so I approached it much like a three-quarter character mask.
Variations on a Mantis
Inspiration and discovery continue throughout the process of making. Those moments are my favorite in my process. These inspirations can manifest in an accident, through a coincidence of timing, etc.
The first version of this mask was made for the Grand Guignolers company in Los Angeles. It was to be human in scale, which directed my choice about how to create visibility for the actor.
This amazing insect was so inspiring, it started appearing in other projects, like the shadow puppet show bugged, created with Rollin Carlson.
Working in shadow encourages an essentialization of form. It’s interesting to look back and see which elements carry on and evolve through the various iterations. After this further exploration of this form through puppetry, I realized wasn’t quite satisfied with the silhouette. I jumped at the chance to improve it with my next commission for the insect.
I refined the eye hole to be even more incorporated in the geometry of the sculpture. The next time I had the opportunity to work on this mask, I played around a little with color. Research images guided my thoughts.
I’ve learned great things each time about this he next time I work on this mask, I want to explore greater width. Here are all the versions so far: