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

(page 2 of 2)

Under Lecoq, Sherman was trained in the commedia dell’arte, a form of improvisational theater from 16th century Italy in which masked actors assume roles from a set of stock characters. He continues to specialize in and teach the tradition. “You can see some commedia in vaudeville, you can see it in cartoons, you can see it in opera, it’s a major foundation of theater and entertainment,” said Sherman as we stood in his kitchen while he prepared fresh hummus. Following World War II, commedia enjoyed a revival stimulated by performers such as Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Lecoq, who began using masks as pedagogical tools. After observing sculpture classes at Beaux Arts and developing his own leather-working techniques, Sherman began to create masks for his own shows and for others. Today, commedia character masks, striking and heavy-featured half-masks with exaggerated expressions, remain a significant part of Sherman’s mask-making repertoire.

While commedia is Sherman’s primary influence as a clown, he says that his performances are Jewishly inflected and inspired. The Talmud, Sherman added, places great value on entertainment and clowns — in tractate Ta’anit, the prophet Elijah is asked who will have a place in the world to come; he responds that there is none. Then, walking through a marketplace, Elijah points to two men. “He says, ‘Hold it, no, those two over there. They’re clowns. They make people laugh, they help people relieve their misery,’” Sherman recounted. “They bring them joy.”

Sherman noted that mask work is best approached with care — wearing a mask can allow one to go beyond one’s limits, and that expansiveness can sometimes prove dangerous. In 1996, Sherman created a mask for WWE wrestler Mick Foley, also known as Mankind. The design was inspired by the bumbling servant character from the commedia, and featured a free-floating moveable jaw supported by leather straps. In addition to becoming the most well-known mask of the wrestling world, the mask freed Foley, Sherman said. Foley’s character blossomed; he began to appear out of nowhere during matches and read poetry at length, drawing laughs with comedy skits involving Mr. Socko, a sock puppet. “The mask allowed him to do all those things. Of course it also allowed him to go further than his body actually would let him,” Sherman explained. “And he quit.” After sustaining multiple injuries, Foley left the ring, making national headlines. “The whole thing is to be able to fly, without any inhibitions or any stops,” Sherman said of mask work. “That is where you have to be careful — you have to know when to stop, when to take care of your body.”

As a matter of course, Sherman always warns recipients of his masks not to look at themselves in the mirror with a mask on to ascertain how they appear. “That’s trying to control the image, and in performance, you have to let the image free,” he said as the sun outside neared its lowest point, encircled by fog. “You have to let the image fly. Having things fly is very important. That’s that trust. Trust in God, trust in faith, its like being able to walk on the edge of the cliff and know you’re gonna be fine.”

Laila Caron is a freelance writer and copyeditor based in New York.


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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.