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Buon Viaggio

Strebor Ailuj

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.

language apps2
This language app has a philosophical bent.

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!

The Sartori

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.

Sartori Arlecchino mask

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.

Familie Flöz

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.

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.

So What?

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.

A student draws “what you don’t see” on the back of her mask.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.17.44 PM
A screen shot from my new store!


Stay Tuned

I’ll be posting about once a week to keep you informed of my progress!



A View of My Studio

A few months ago I was approached by a photographer in Eugene, Oregon, named Dennis Galloway. Among his many other projects, he shoots panoramas of artists in their studios. We arranged a time and he came up an took this awesome photo.

We chatted about masks and photography and travels as we did this shoot. It went so quickly!

My studio, in panorama! Photo by Dennis Galloway
My studio, in panorama!
Photo by Dennis Galloway

The distortion caused by the rotation of the camera makes it look so much bigger than it is, and changes the shapes of things. Now I want curved tables to work at!

Check out more of Dennis’ work  at​, and more of his studio panoramas here.

Mask Making Intensive Workshop in Portland: March 27-29

Hi everyone! I’m leading a workshop on half masks for the stage. Read more below!
To be sure to hear about upcoming workshops and performances, join my mailing list.
– Tony

Making the Stage-ready Mask

Learn how to make a mask that feeds the performer and is designed to play powerfully on indoor and outdoor stages. In this hands-on workshop, participants will design, sculpt, cast and paint a paper mache character half mask. Attention will be paid to sources of creative inspiration, qualities that promote dynamic onstage play, and techniques for shaping a well-engineered character mask. Participants will leave the workshop with a plaster cast of their face and one painted mask.
            This workshop is excellent for costume designers, actors and performers, and mask enthusiasts at all levels of experience. Pre-registration by March 25 is required.

6-9 pm             Friday, March 27
10-7pm*            Saturday, March 28
10-7pm*            Sunday, March 29
 *There will be an hour lunch break on Saturday and Sunday
            Oregon Children’s Theatre, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR
            The cost of the workshop is $225.  Special discount for blog readers: $200. Include the code “makingfaces” in your registration email.
Cost for materials is included. A $50 non-refundable deposit is required upon registration.
TO ENROLL: Email me at for more information and with any questions about the workshop.

Some for wearing, some for seeing

Some of my masks are commissioned. Some are  designed as a part of a specific theatre or dance production.  Some are the results of experimenting in the studio. But nearly all of the masks I make are intended for performance—or at least for wearing. The materials I use and painting styles I employ follow this sense of functionality.

IMG_1965However, masks are not only present in the arena of performance, but in visual art world and the ritual world.  They can be sacred, profane, entertaining, instructing, comic, tragic, symbolic, magical, instructive, characters, metaphors, disguises, and more.

The feathers on this Inuit mask are important for what they are, not for the way they create an illusion of a face.
The feathers on this Inuit mask are important for what they are, not for the way they create an illusion of a face.

In some masks,  the materials used have equal or greater importance than the character or image of the mask. And in certain schools of theatre, the mask is a metaphor to describe everything: there is a mask of a character, of a space, of a time, of an atmosphere.


And it’s always evolving!  New materials and processes arise. New technologies have implications on the way we find and maintain community. New needs become apparent, and new rituals develop to meet them.

Here are some links of some newer things I find interesting

Studio Bertjan Pot

Read about the rope/string masks from Studio Bertjan Pot in this article from Juxtapoz.

These masks were born by accident, but they are quite interesting faces.
These masks were born by accident, but they are quite interesting faces.

“I wanted to find out if by stitching a rope together I could make a large flat carpet. Instead of flat, the samples got curvy. When I was about to give up on the carpet, Vladi came up with the idea of ​​shaping the rope into masks. The possibilities are endless, I’m meeting new faces every day.”


Creative Compulsive

Daisey Bingham makes many wonderful things. I first met her as a fellow design student, and we spent many hours together in the costume shop.

hen mask


Recently, she has begun to make many awesome masks stitched from felt, and even sells her patterns on her Etsy shop. You can follow her blog here.


I met Aleksander Skoric in Amsterdam in 1999. He is a multidisciplinary artist that makes wonderful  paper masks. Check out his gallery on his website here.

Ivana Paperel from sasadesign on Vimeo.


The Wonderheads are a performance company based in Portland, Oregon. Their comical shows feature a style of storytelling which is almost completely non-verbal. These masks completely surround the head and are fitted with accessories like wigs and glasses.

Two character from "The Middle of Everywhere". These masks completely surround the head and are fitted  with accessories like wigs and glasses.
Two character from “The Middle of Everywhere”. Actors bring these characters and the story to life  with a nuanced use of the body.

Taylor Mac

Image from "The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac"
Image from “The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac”

Taylor Mac is a force. I repeat, a force. Do yourself a favor and [buy a ticket to New York if necessary] and see him perform.  He is a captivating performance artist using surprise and imagination to connect with the audience. And he’s a drag queen with a great sense of style. Is it a mask? Is it makeup? Is it something else?  Let me know what you think.

And now, it’s OFF TO INDIA to work on the Maya project!