Tag Masks

Making A Mask

I was lucky to be present for the final project performances of the fourth graduating class of students of the Fiziksel Tiyatro ve Komedi Okulu in Istanbul, Turkey. My masks are used for training at that school and it was my pleasure that three of the groups made mask performances.
What an honor! I had nothing to do with the creation of the performances, heck, I barely knew the performers. But there were the masks that I know so well embodied and onstage. A divorce, a dark and funny audition scene with some very well integrated circus skills and a sweet scene on the conflict between two neighbors, one old, one young. I loved it so much so that I’m ready to get cracking on another group of masks when I return home.

The Formless Hunch

Detail from The Subway, George Tooker (1950)

“the formless hunch – the basis of everything – that something is pregnant, something is possible, and all the work is to find the complete, convincing but temporary form that suits the moment”

-Peter Brook


I’ve been nurturing an unformed hunch about having a good crack at making more masks for a while. With the last few masks I made I started writing notes, reminders to myself to make things easier. Avoid making mistakes twice. That and notes on the masks that I’ve gotten to see up and playing, little things I’d have done differently mostly: awkward transitions, rough edges, weird colors. In time, I collected those notes into a little book and now into a website.

Tapping out all these notes has been clarifying for my process and I suppose has been forming more clearly that unformed hunch to get to making.

As I see it, the next steps are a lot more practical, buying clay, gathering material and setting up a studio. The necessary call of movement to making a mask. Here we go.

A Short Visit With Matteo

Matteo Destro is a mask maker, theater director and teacher. He was my mentor during the years I spent in Italy studying movement theater at Helikos and it’s his voice I hear in my mind whenever I’m making masks or puppets.

He was passing through Ljubljana so we threw him a little party.

In just a few hours, three years worth of work and lessons came back in a flood. Sensitivity, silence, and observation all contributing to the poetry that can be achieved through theater. Not to mention I got to see some of the new masks he’s been working on. They are beautiful full face leather masks that are so simple and strong.

We even had time to make some goofy pictures thanks to Justin and Ilgaz.

Good to see you again Matteo!

IMG_0552 IMG_0562

The Lost Wheels of Time

Funny isn’t it how things work out?

Just a few days ago I was in a kind of panic that strikes the artistically self-employed. Nothing is coming, I’m broke, there’s no way forward. But within hours of voicing these sensible thoughts I got a call.

The background

My friend Justin was filling in for a street show in the Ljubljana street theater festival. They had lost an actor and were panicked looking for an emergency replacement for five shows. They got his number through the grapevine, he rehearsed for a few days, and boom! he was in the show. Unfortunately during the first performance he cracked his toe mighty hard on a set piece and after he got home he noticed it was swollen and purple.


I took him to the hospital. (That’s where I found out about the animation Pat & Mat.) And we waited for hours for him to be seen, x-rayed and reported back to. It wasn’t broken, that was the good news. But the nurse told him to stay off it. The show he was hired for is violently active so he was faced with a problem, limp through and risk worse injury or take a pass on the rest of the performances.

The next morning I got a phone call from the street show saying they were an actor down and would I possibly have the time to learn the show and perform. Justin was out and he gave them my number.

I showed up Thursday at noon and paced through the show as best I could. Piece by piece under the summer sun it started to come together. By 9:30 there were about 200 people waiting, the music came on and I jumped out on stage.

So, how was it?

You know in some movies how people are in a boxcar racing down the tracks, they throw their bag and then leap from the moving car, pumping their legs as fast as possible in the air then they hit the ground and try to keep enough speed to avoid falling flat on their face? It went a little like that.

During the show I had a few moments of fear that I was about to fall headlong into a clock, and I did kick over the wind machine. But I survived, and I tell ya, my weekend is a lot more exciting than I had planned for.

Rabit_Bojan Okorn

We’ll play it once more, today at 7.30 in Nova Gorica, Slovenia. Then Adam and Spiros will pack their van and travel to Poland where I suppose they will be on the look-out for another rabbit. Another energetic and game actor to don the latex rabbit mask and leap from the train.

These photos were taken by Bojan Okorn and were published on the Ana Desetnica Flickr account.

Benda Masks

W.T. Benda was a Polish American making masks in the 1920s and 1930s. He was as famous as mask makers get in his time or ours. His masks were in Hollywood movies, on Broadway and in magazines. He was also an illustrator and a graphic artist too, producing classic magazine covers for Collier’s, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and many others. But as his career progressed he got deeper into mask making, eventually publishing a book that details some of his theories and his mask making process. It’s called “Masks.”


There are very few books available on the art of mask making, so I was fascinated when I heard of his. But it’s been out of print since it was published in 1944 and I couldn’t find much about it online except for a few low-res images and some Amazon resellers listing it for sixty bucks and more.

Public Library to the Rescue!

Imagine my surprise then when I found the book listed as available through interlibrary loan from the Lewis and Clark Public Library. Interlibrary loan is like the internet before the internet. I remember learning about it in middle school, back in the days before the internet was as awesome as it is now.

I put my middle school knowledge to the test. I ordered that bad boy. Waited four weeks for it to arrive and finally I had my hands on it. It’s a beautiful little brown book, 100 plus pages, lots of illustrations. And it’s funny.

But all this is beside the point. The point is, I scanned it in and put it online. Now it’s available for anyone to download.

Isn’t that Illegal?

I don’t know if it is. But if it is, it shouldn’t be. It’s a rare book full of relevant material out of print for decades. Why not share it? It’s the best kind of file sharing if you ask me.

MASKS – Benda.pdf (68.5 MB)

Here is is. You click that and you’ll be taken to MegaUpload. It looks kind of shady, I know, but it’s safe. I mean, it’s from New Zealand!

Enjoy that beautiful book.