The Mask and Wig Club, Penn’s all-male comedy troupe, has entertained Philadelphians and the Penn community since 1889 with its original revues, often featuring skits with men dressed up as women.
At the time of Mask and Wig’s founding, most colleges were only open to men, so the troupe’s cast was all male. Because of the popularity of burlesque during that era, the club adopted the genre.
As in year’s past, today’s Mask and Wig musical productions are comedies that satirize current events and campus life. The troupe stages an original production in the fall and in the spring. Current students and alumni participate in every aspect of the productions. “Wiggers,” as members are known, write, produce and direct all the shows, which have had titles such as “Mystery Loves Company,” “Happily Ever Laughter,” and “Less Miserable.” Troupe members also design the elaborate costumes and stage sets.
Each year during Spring Break, the troupe takes its show on the road to alumni clubs across the United States. The accompanying photo shows a student in the dressing room before the 1928 performance of “Tarantella.”
Alumni oversee the traveling production in the spring, and are responsible for maintaining the historic clubhouse building located on Quince Street in Center City Philadelphia. Designed by American architect Wilson Eyre, the clubhouse at one time housed dissecting rooms for Jefferson Medical College before it became Mask and Wig’s home. The clubhouse’s interior, decorated with a collection of early Maxfield Parrish paintings, includes an auditorium with a stage, dressing rooms, an office and a kitchen. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the late 1800s and into the 1900s, Mask and Wig performed to sold-out crowds at venues such as Philadelphia’s old Forrest Theatre and traveled in its own Pennsylvania Railroad car to perform across the country. Their catchy tunes became popular on the radio and with big band orchestras. Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra are among the singers who sang Mask and Wig songs.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on December 2, 2010