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Masquerade Mall

Spring 2019
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Courtesy of Shawn Douglass

After putting on a children’s theater performance during his senior year, Jeff Semmerling ’81 became fascinated with mask-making. He spent years honing his skills in the mask shop he started in New Orleans in 1982 and for theater companies around the country before starting his Chicago Art Side Out Studio & MASK SHOP. Today he’s one of the country’s best-known mask makers. You can see his work on the faces of Mardi Gras attendees and Lyric Opera performers and on the Broadway stage — and now on Northwestern theater students, who experimented with masks during a fall quarter acting class on Greek playwrights. A grant from the Alumnae of Northwestern funded the purchase of 16 neoprene masks produced by Semmerling. He says that masks offer students the opportunity to “see the world through new eyes” and, as an ensemble, to become “the we instead of the me.” Shawn Douglass, a theater lecturer, fostered the collaboration. He used masks during graduate school and believed his students would benefit from the experience. “Masks take us out of our heads and into our bodies,” he says. “It requires a desperate, passionate commitment to character, because you have to use your physical body to occupy space, not just your facial expressions.”

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Reader Responses

  • Great to work with a passionate and visionary teacher like Shawn Douglass on this project. After all these years teaching the Greeks with masks? Brilliant. I made the masks to last 35 more years.

    Jeff Semmerling ’81 Chicago, via Northwestern Magazine

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