A companion blog to my memoir, "Sting of the Heat Bug"
A largely unsung legend has passed away too soon. Here is the text of a story I published in The Register Citizen about mask-maker/performer Larry Hunt in April 2010. Rest in peace, my friend.
Larry Hunt: Who is that half-masked man?
By Jack Sheedy
When Larry Hunt of Bethlehem dons one of his self-made half-masks during a stage performance, a collective gasp is heard from the audience. Something has transformed not only the performer, but every spectator of every age and background. Hunt’s posture changes to fit the character the mask represents. If the character speaks, the voice is unique. And the audience connects with that character immediately.
Such is the gift of Larry Hunt, who will present an hour-long program of his half-mask characters for his nonprofit Peach Orchard, Inc., May 1 and 2  at Memorial Hall, Main Street, Bethlehem. Proceeds will raise money for his upcoming trip to Prague later in the month, where he and his performance partner Adelka Polak will compete in an international festival of puppetry.
Just who is this half-masked man? He is an actor, director, mask-maker and educator. Hunt has performed original works with Masque Theatre since he founded it in 1980. But that’s just the short answer.
“I was a stage actor, and I’ve been doing masks since 1977,” he says. “I was not too many years out of college in Portland, Ore., where I studied mask and mime at Theatre Elan. I had studied theater at Eastern Washington State University, and I graduated from there in 1971.”
His years on stage taught him to approach theater with his whole body, not just his voice. “Whenever I rehearsed I would just play physically. I began to think I needed to study mime. So I studied with the late Jacques Lecoq [French actor, mime and instructor] and his students, worked with edible masks and did some illusory work,” he says.
Over the years, Hunt has developed five main characters, each representing a different perspective on life. “Quincy is the character who embodies perpetual optimism. There is an underlying optimism underneath everything he says or does,” Hunt says. There is also Edgar, who sees himself as America’s favorite poet; he is a ham, “an extreme theatrical personality.” Then there’s the streetwise Buk, who simply enjoys everything he does, whether it’s singing, reciting poetry, whatever. “He doesn’t care what people think of him. That’s not in the equation,” Hunt says.
When he puts on the mask of Jaye, the audience sees and feels that this person has no self-esteem. “He worries a lot. He tries to be understood,” Hunt says.
Finally, there is Jamy, who personifies the perspective of a four-year-old child. Jamy is innocent and inquisitive.
“I don’t perform a woman,” Hunt says. “I don’t have that perspective.”
He emphasizes that his masks don’t try to mimic anybody. “They are characters unto themselves, a perspective, how they see the world.”
Quincy came to him first. “He encouraged me to keep making masks. The others came more slowly. Jamy, the little boy, started with improvisations. I had to remake his mask at least three times, to get his character just right.”
Yes, Hunt makes all his own masks. Largely self-taught, he begins by sculpting in water-based clay. He has used several materials for the final mask, including papier-mâché, burlap and paper. Finally, a touring partner introduced him to neoprene, a synthetic rubber. “It makes light, strong masks, somewhat flexible, fairly comfortable to wear,” he says. “They last a long time and take paint very well.”
In 2008, Hunt teamed up with Sherman resident Adelka Polak, a dancer, puppeteer, choreographer and stage manager for national and international venues. She has worked extensively in New York City, her home town. Last year she accompanied Hunt to Bulgaria, where they competed in the Pierrot International Festival of Adult Puppetry.
Hunt says, “We won a special award in Bulgaria, and it was quite a big surprise. The director of the competition had said he didn’t want to give any special awards, but judges from Poland, Russia and Bulgaria wanted to give us one anyway. The award has a strange name, maybe a bad English translation, which says, ‘Award for Master Classes of the Mask Play.’”
Fortuitously, Hunt and Polak were accompanied in Bulgaria by a recording crew from CPTV, which will air an episode about the trip and competition on “All Things Connecticut” on April 29 at 8 pm.
Hunt’s networking skills apparently rival his performing skills. He had taken his car for repairs and learned that his mechanic knew someone at CPTV. “I gave a packet of information to him, and he said he would show it to one of the directors of CPTV, Edward Wierzbicki.”
Hunt and Wierzbicki met to discuss the upcoming Bulgaria project. “The theme was language and communication. We do nonverbal work, and this was to be a festival of many different languages. He came with us and took 12 hours of video. I haven’t seen it yet, but he’s very happy with it,” Hunt says.
After Hunt and Polak’s May 1 and 2 performances in Bethlehem, they will travel to Prague as the only U.S. performance team to take part in the World Festival of Puppet Art May 31 to June 6. They were chosen from among 273 applicants from all over the world. Only 30 acts from 25 countries were selected.