Tag Archives: Mask

The Mask Maker

I’ve often found that people aren’t quite sure what I mean when I say I’m a mask maker. Chris Hatcher of Field Guide Films gives a terrific peek behind the curtains in this video.

The Mask Maker from Chris Hatcher on Vimeo.


The masks I’m making here are for the production of The Spider Queen by The NOLA Project, directed by Jon Greene. This original play was inspired in part by the sculpture of a spider by Louise Bourgeois  in NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, where the play will be performed in May 2017.

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1995, bronze; Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans. PHOTO: Celan Bouillet



An Italian Summer(y)

Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali

Earlier this summer, I posted about my study with the Sartori in Abano Terme, a small city of 19,000 near the larger city of Padova. Here are a few photos of the rest of that work!


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.

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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!

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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.

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.

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.

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
  • Limiting distractions
  • 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.

Final Dance Party at Abbazia San Giusto

Many thanks ! The study with Familie Flöz was made possible in part by a professional development grant from :




Mask Making Workshop in Portland April 29–May 1


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 tony_fuemmeler@yahoo.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.


Web: www.tonyfuemmeler.com

Instagram: make_those_faces






Hunting for solutions

Behind the Scenes: The King Stag

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.

Parrot puppet

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)

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.

The mask of the King Stag incorporates two kinds of rings: the upper are fixed, while the lower can turn. The little movements help incorpoate the mask to the actors body. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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 love how the planar design helps the mask transform in motion and contributes to the magic of the play.

It was so interesting to build in this very mathematical way. The front of the face was drawn topographically, then measurements were transposed to help create an appropriate profie. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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.

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.

The magical statue aids King Deramo by laughing at the false affections of Smeraldina, his valet’s sister. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

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.

Click here to see all of the production photos.

A summer of puppetry & dance

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.

Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Using found materials to create costumes. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Looking one of Geoffrey Holder's pieces after making some art together. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Looking one of Geoffrey Holder’s pieces after making some art together.
Photo: Šara Stranovsky

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.

Building ensemble with the cast. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Building ensemble with the cast.
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
A bear mask I made from a sieve. Photo: Lucy Gram
A bear mask I made from a sieve.
Photo: Lucy Gram
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Exploring the movement possibilities with the students. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Students did research to find the best way to bring the pinwheel paper cup bird puppets to life. They determined the criteria for success, and we used that information to coach them for the final performance. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
In rehearsal! Photo: Lucy Gram
In rehearsal!
Photo: Lucy Gram
What is the nature of a rainbow? How does it move? How does it feel? Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Researching the performative nature of a rainbow: How does it move? How does it feel?
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Glittery fish puppets. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Taking a rest from flight. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Taking a rest from flight. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Lucy Gram
Carmen DeLavallade, surrounded by birds, flowers, and the sun at the Damrosch Park Amphitheatre. Photo: Lucy Gram
 Photo: Šara Stranovsky
In just one week, our ensemble did so much! Here’s a shot from the performance of The Creation Story. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Chris and I with Carmen after the performance. Photo: Lucy Gram
Chris and I with the generous and legendary Carmen DeLavallade after the performance.
Photo: Lucy Gram
The youth perform a post show bird attack! Okay, I egged them on a little :)
The youth staging a post-show bird attack!
Okay, I egged them on a little 🙂

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!

Discovering the way for three people to move as one being.
The first steps are… literally that. We had to uncover the way to do a basic walk before we could learn to dance.

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.

Both doing and watching are necessary to learn how to successfully bring a puppet to life.
The dance of the puppeteers is a separate, but equally interesting, dance to that of the puppet itself.
Wendy and Chris discussing the fine points of puppet capability. Many of our rehearsal discoveries lead to small tweaks in the design.
And then we dance again!

Find out more about the Hagoromo performance and process through this excellent resource on the BAM website.

And watch a video of me with Catherine Gowl and Pepper Fajans as we puppeteer in a mirror exercise with Wendy Whelan.

It's a small puppet world! One of the other awesoem rehearsal puppeteers, Katie Melby, had previously performed with my talented sister-in-law, Katie Kaufmann, in the Twin Cities!
It’s a small puppet world! One of the other awesome rehearsal puppeteers, Katie Melby, had previously performed with my talented sister-in-law, Katie Kaufmann, in the Twin Cities!

Making it work

As a child,  I would often hear my father say: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” The most pressing thing on my mind at the time was: Why would one want to skin a cat at all? 

I still haven’t answered that question. However, I do know there’s more than one way to get something done.  And I have been trying a good number of approaches as I work on the masks for the Maya project: different styles, different materials, different processes.

This (currently ear-less) cat was sculpted on top of a bucket on top of an old dabba of ghee on a pedestal, and skinned with papier mache.
Ska, the 9 headed serpent, nears completion!  The foam snake body was sculpted by Sunil, and I made  the vice-laden faces to attach.
Ska, the 9 headed serpent, nears completion! The foam snake body was sculpted by Sunil, and I made the vice-laden faces to attach.

There’s also more than one way to feel successful. I think some of the success of a mask is measured by its accessibility. It is a really satisfying feeling when a person can pick up a mask I’ve made and instantly feel that they know what they will do with it. There is a feeling that the mask is strongly and clearly communicating its nature to the performer.

This parrot mask, modeled perfectly by  Shahish,  was built on basket augmented by newspaper, cardboard, and cello tape.
This parrot mask, modeled perfectly by Shahish, was built on basket augmented by newspaper, cardboard, and cello tape.

I’m not trying to say that masks can’t or shouldn’t be mysterious. Many a mask can take some work to get to know and to perform well. However, when there is a sense of recognition in the actor’s eyes because they can intuit the nature of the character, or see the possibilities in the mask, I feel I’ve done a good job.

Avian Evolution

Materials, working conditions, and needs of the performance are often in flux, so I find that adaptability is key. I have my preferred methods of creation when on my home turf, but while in India there are a number of differences. For example, used cardboard boxes, brown bags, and newspaper are not easy obtainium in Mumbai as they are in the US.  Here they are commodities that can be purchased if you know where to look. The challenge can then become to use what you have in front of you to get the work done.

Phase 1: A costume mock-up before I arrived
Phase 1: A costume mock-up before I arrived
Phase 2: Trying to improve the original
Phase 2: Adding detail and dimension to the original
Phase 3: Altering the position of the mask
Phase 3: Altering the position of the mask
Phase 4: Cutting it all up and putting it back together.
Phase 4: Cutting it all up and putting it back together.
Phase 5: Testing the altered mask on a new volunteer. Accessibility—and wearability—achieved!
Phase 5: Testing the altered mask on a new volunteer. Accessibility and wearability achieved!
Phase 6: Painted and rehearsal-ready!
Phase 6: Painted and rehearsal-ready!

Furthermore when working on a project as large as Maya, often previously approved ideas need to change slightly to serve the show. Sometimes the choreography, blocking, and the style of mask just don’t synch up and to be successful we find how we might change.In some cases, the choreography can be altered with minimal fussiness. In the case of our peacock character, Prasad was so amazing and alive in physical characterization that it was better to change the position of the mask to match what he was proposing.

Five Sprites, Please

IMG_4373Just a few days before all the basic structures and paint jobs were due, I was asked to make the antlers of the deer masks removable. This would permit easier shipping from venue to venue on the tour. I decided to use old bottles and their lids as the mechanism for this request. A 600 ml Sprite bottle had the perfect neck, but also a very short lid to which I could attach the wire and foam antlers. But it would have to do. I went out into the madness of the Dadar market to purchase five Sprites, trying to decide whether I would drink any or just pour it out. It was a hot day. But I couldn’t find a single one. Then I found a plastics shop (owned by Shahish, incidentally. See parrot pic) that carried long neck bottles with tall lids. Success!

Thanks to my good friend Amy Jo, who shared this idea with me years ago.
Mama Tiger with ears and paint. atop a bike helmet, atop an actor.
Mama Tiger with ears and paint. atop a bike helmet, atop an actor.

Photos from the Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets

Photos from the Setia Darma House of Masks & Puppets

Here are my photos from our visit to the mask and puppet museum near the village of Mas in Bali.  There are many masks from major Balinese performance traditions of Calonarang, Topeng, and Wayang Wong included. There were also masks from other Indonesian isles and many other countries. I’ve included text from the museum placards (or at least the spirit of it) in the descriptions for each photo.

Enjoy!  Full photo album from the trip forthcoming!

Your friendly neighborhood mask maker,



This trip was made possible in part by a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.


One month away!


I started this blog to chronicle my 2014 trip to Bali — and it’s almost here! In just 30 days, I will be flying from San Francisco to Taipei, and then from Taipei to Bali.  When I travel, even small distances, the reality of the event hits me when I get in the car or approach the ticketing counter at the airport. Sometimes I don’t even pack until the day I’m leaving. This time, however, it seems like the month I have left to prepare is just barely enough to get it all done.

Balinese character mask. Crooked teeth are signs of comic characters.
Balinese monkey mask. This one has a movable jaw!
Balinese monkey mask. This one has a movable jaw!

I am going to Bali for an intensive month of study in the arts of traditional wooden mask carving and topeng (Balinese masked dance).  I will also have periodic classes in kecak (the monkey chant), Alexander Technique, and yoga; and symposia on the similarities between Western and Balinese mask traditions. This program is offered through the Dell’Arte International School of Blue Lake, CA. I like the the way that it’s structured to allow you to study masks from both sculptural and performative points of view.

It’s so exciting to be able to immerse myself in study and in a new culture!

This is a long-awaited opportunity. I have been working as a mask-maker the last 10 years. Most of the last 8 years have been in Portland, Oregon. I have spent that time creating masks for a variety of theatre and dance companies, and each collaboration has brought new ideas into the mix. I’m proud of the work I’ve done. I also feel ready for a bigger push, one that can help me find my way to the next level. I feel ready to study under a master.

But for now, I have to pack.

                                                        Me in Character Mask