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Arts & Life

PHOTOS: UMKC Theater Students 'Find The Animal Within' By Making Freaky Masks

Graduate students in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City recently spent a week expanding their creative horizons with artist-in-residence Tony Fuemmeler, a mask maker and puppeteer based in Portland, Ore.

Their task: Create a mask using natural materials and thrift-store finds.

"A lot of them at the beginning said, 'Oh I’m not a visual artist, I’m not a sculptor, I don’t know if I can do this,' but they just dove right in," said Stephanie Roberts, Associate Professor of Physical Theatre.

MFA students at UMKC are in the second year of the Epic Project, a three-year training program exploring devised theater, or collaborative theater. It's designed to push students outside of their comfort zones and collaborate in all aspects of theater.

"Tony supports and encourages them and yet he challenges and provokes them as well," Roberts said, "so I think they’ve learned a lot about themselves and their own potential as artists."

At the end of the week, pressure was on to put the final touches on their creations.

"Think about how the energy flows on the mask, "and how you can increase the sense of flow on your mask," Fuemmeler said.

"It’s been a wonderful experience to see how they bring their own sense of curiosity and play to exploring these materials and finding the animal within," he added as he helped Maya Jackson adjust the basket beak of her owl mask.

Roberts said the Epic Project program is a unique way to have students collaborate and build a production from the ground up.

"At the beginning it’s a lot of play and improvisation and just generating raw material and we just see what the patterns are and what rises to the top," she said. "We don’t start with a script. We start with our imagination."

The puppets represent just one layer of an original work that the students plan to create and present on the Spencer Theatre in the spring of 2016. But in March, the public will have a chance to see what the students have accomplished so far.

UMKC MFA students present their work on characterization during performances open to the public March 11-14 at 7:30 p.m.; and March 15 at 2 p.m in Studio 116 in the lower level of the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center, 4949 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Mo. Performances are free of charge, and limited seating is available. Reservations may be made by calling 816-235-2782 and leaving a message on the voicemail. 

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