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!
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • 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.