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 :




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