Casting my lot in with Commedia masks

by Vincenzo Tortorici | 1 May 2018

It will clog your pipes and ruin your plumbing faster than eating 10kg of cheese at one sitting.

First published in the March 2012 Scene issue “Projects, people and places”.

I had long felt drawn to work with my hands and make masks but had never had any training in the matter. I had read and re-read the basics of the techniques in Thurston James’s The Prop-Builder’s Mask-Making Handbook like a child drooling at the window of a candy store but until I gathered up my courage to seek out one more expert than I, it remained only a wish. Then I found myself in residence as a puppeteer at Atlanta’s Centre for Puppetry Arts. I had some down-time in the theatre and wandered into the puppet-builder’s shop. Lucky for me, the mad genius in the shop was a very helpful and generous sort and allowed me a corner of his table to begin my experiments. That was all it took to set my artistic life and career on a new path. I still am no expert by any means. But even his minimal support and encouragement started me on a path that led to much more than a newly acquired skill. It set the foundation for a major aspect of my work and life as an artist.

My strength is not as a visual artist so I don’t generally sketch out my masks first. So don’t let that stop you either. You never know what might work for you, despite your ideas about your limitations. I have to get the clay in my hands and start with a basic idea or a stimulus I have found which I can reference, form the mask in three dimensions and follow where my impulses take me.

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