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.
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!