Living as a street mime in Paris, Bruce Marrs was influenced by the use of masks in theater productions. A year later he tried his hand at creating masks while working with the Oregon Dance Theatre.
Although the show was not a success, it inspired him to want to learn more about the art form.
Bruce took an intensive class in commedia del’arte – a form of theater using masks that is both scripted and improvised – at Del’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.
He was hired to teach dance, mime and mask making. He worked at the school for the next 25 years.
During the summers Bruce worked at county fairs as a stilt character, dancer, clown or whatever was needed. Rather than changing makeup for each character, he decided to create a set of papier-mache masks from brown grocery bags.
The Pickle Family Circus and Jeff Raz of the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco commissioned a set of masks and, through word of mouth, there became a demand for his handmade character masks.
Bruce’s mask set of 10 characters became popular with universities, high schools and guest teachers all over the U.S., Canada, Scandinavia, India, England and Australia. Touring companies asked for custom sets for their shows.
He made and sold thousands of masks to sustain his family through the summers when school was not in session.
The masks are transformative for the actor, according to Bruce. “They are magic. The same mask on a different actor will be a different personage.
“For teachers, it’s always new and surprising. For students, they are, at first, invited to be other than themselves. Then they become responsible to discover and serve that new life.”
Michel Reeverts, aka Maquette , holds a master of arts degree in art education, serves Alberta Art Works as director and Alberta Street Gallery as a board member. She is also a practicing artist. Contact her at Maquette@AlbertaArtWorks.org