Conan O'Brien's Hasidic Maskmaker

Stanley Allan Sherman's Clients Included Tightrope Walkers and Professional Wrestlers

Behind The Mask: Stanley Allan Sherman’s works can be seen in the show ‘Queen of the Night.’
Scott Heist
Behind The Mask: Stanley Allan Sherman’s works can be seen in the show ‘Queen of the Night.’

By Laila Caron

Published February 28, 2014, issue of March 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

‘When one puts on a mask, one frees oneself,” said Stanley Allan Sherman. Sherman has been making masks for over 30 years, yet his career defies easy categorization. His clients have ranged from pro-wrestlers to high-wire walker Philippe Petit, for whom he created a top hat that would remain on his head during performances. Sherman is a clown, mime and director, and is perhaps best known for his frequent appearances on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” as the hasidic Jew during the ’90s.

I visited Sherman as he prepared for Shabbos in his home on the border between Chelsea and the West Village. Sherman is tall, with a long beard and a way of telling stories that makes the commonplace enchanting.

I followed him through a darkened parlor where leather masks hang from the walls alongside a complete set of Talmud volumes and into his workshop at the back of the apartment. Here he designs and crafts his masks, working mainly in leather but also in the lighter-weight neoprene latex. A single mask can take months to make.

“I have to put souls in my masks for them to really live,” he told me. Sometimes when Sherman speaks, his eyes brighten and grow wide, and for a moment reality seems almost to dissolve. “It’s important for me to live the character that I’m sculpting,” he said, describing how he employs theatrical exercises while sculpting to imbue his masks with emotion so that they may come to life. “I can do it technically — but it would be a totally different mask, even if it’s from the exact same mold. And each mask is different.”

One of Sherman’s creations can currently be seen in the show “Queen of the Night,” which opened on New Year’s Eve to a sold-out run at the Diamond Horseshoe. The interactive theater piece is based on Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” and combines cabaret, dance, acrobatics and a decadent meal. (“Unfortunately it’s not kosher!” Sherman noted with a laugh; the offerings include full roasted pigs.) Fashion designer Thom Browne commissioned the mask for the show’s lead.

Browne’s team used one of Sherman’s minimalistic theatrical training masks as a base for their design. Entirely white, the mask extends out into a generous halo crowned by a jewel, and almost seems to levitate on the face of performer Katherine Crockett. Sherman called it one of the most challenging masks he’s ever made. “I positioned the stone so that if the lighting designer happened to notice it and shined a light on it, the light would fracture in all different directions,” he said. When Crockett appears on the stage in Sherman’s creation, a laser strikes the stone, throwing shattered light across the theater and shrouding it in a psychedelic fog. Originally, the team had envisioned a much more embellished mask, but in collaboration with Sherman, developed a simpler design. “With masks, simple lines help create the magic,” Sherman said. “If you give every single detail of exactly what you want someone to feel and see, there’s no room for their imagination… It’s how you invite people to participate.”

Sherman first began to work with masks while a student at the Paris school of Jacques Lecoq, one of the century’s most influential physical comedy teachers, whose methods emphasized the importance of improvisation and mime as the foundation of dramatic training. By a providential turn of events, Sherman found out about Lecoq, who would become his central teacher, through a woman he met while hitchhiking in the desert by the Dead Sea shortly after graduating high school in Oregon. “There is destiny,” remarked Sherman of the incident. “It’s written, but it’s not written. It’s up to you to take action. In Pirkei Avot it says: ‘We win our bread at the risk of our life.’ If we’re not risking, we’re not living. It took faith to actually walk into the sea.”

Scott Heist

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.