It’s all in the masks for MCT’s newest production
by Randy Evans
Special to The Times-Indepenedent
Feb 28, 2013 | 1575 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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When school teacher/ceramic artist/stage manager Joanne Savoie attended a mask-making seminar last summer, she had no inkling that she would become the magnificent mask mistress of Moab Community Theatre. Masks are an important part of commedia dell’arte, the classic form of theatre that is featured in MCT’s current production, “A Company Of Wayward Saints.”

Several masks were to be custom fabricated for the show and Savoie volunteered to lead the manufacturing team.

  She had found herself totally fascinated by the entire process of making masks from papier-mâché when she went to a class at the MARC given by Denver-based mask master Nick Trotter. Savoie was eager to use the techniques she learned in the class to benefit her wayward MCT pals. (One of the masked performers in the upcoming comedy is her own husband, James Ferro.)

  For comfort, each mask was individually molded to the face of the actor who wears it so that it fits perfectly. The masks were then fashioned to emphasize emotional expression, with exaggerated, strong features so that characters can be recognized from a distance. Every mask in commedia dell’arte is designed to represent the distinctive mood of the character that it depicts.

  Ideally, actors would play a large part in the design and creation of their own distinctive masks but there just wasn’t time, said Savoie. Seven masks were needed, so she created an assembly line in her studio to expedite some of the many steps in the process. At some of the steps, she was able to work on all the masks at the same time.

  The mask-making process involves several stages. Savoie had to create the mask molds by applying plaster-coated gauze to the actors’ faces and once the molds were ready they were filled with plaster of Paris to create the mask form. Savoie then sculpted the features into the masks and coated them with papier-mâché. Finally, she sanded and trimmed the masks, then painted and sealed them after one final fitting with the actors.

  When asked what she found to be the most surprising after all was said and done, Savoie said the entire process took much longer than she anticipated due to sub-zero temperatures this winter, which cooled the studio and slowed drying times. She also noted that carpenter’s glue dries faster than traditional wheat paste; but isn’t as easy to clean up.

  Volunteers Kandee DeGraw, Kaki Hunter and Mary McGann spent numerous hours applying the papier-mâché onto the finished forms, layering and sanding, and constructing the actual masks.

  Presented by Moab Community Theatre in association with Moab Arts Council, “A Company Of Wayward Saints” will be performed in Star Hall on Feb. 28, March 1 and 2 and March 7, 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. A matinee will be performed at 2 p.m. at Star Hall on Sunday, March 3.

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