Mask and Wig: Behind the Scenes
Penn’s Mask and Wig Club is an all-male comedy troupe that has entertained Philadelphians and the Penn community since 1889 with its original revues, often featuring men dressed up as women.
At the time of Mask and Wig’s founding, most colleges were open only to men, so the troupe’s cast was all male. Due to 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 spring, with students and alumni participating in every aspect of the performance. “Wiggers,” as members are known, write, produce and direct the shows. They also design the elaborate costumes and stage sets. Their motto is: “Justice to the stage and credit to the University.”
The club prospered throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1908, the club donated funds to construct a dormitory in the University Quadrangle that still bears the name “Mask and Wig.” At one time, the troupe traveled with its shows across the country in its own Pennsylvania Railroad Car, and musical greats such as Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Les Brown covered Mask and Wig tunes.
This year the troupe is staging its 123rd production, “A Volcanic Corruption: Sun Intended,” a musical about three dysfunctional siblings stranded on an island. The show opened on Jan. 28 and will run every weekend through April 8, when the troupe takes the production on the road to New York City, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit.
The performances are held at Mask and Wig’s historic clubhouse 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 is decorated with a collection of early Maxfield Parrish paintings, and the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Additionally, please visit Flickr to view a slideshow of photos.
Text by Jeanne Leong
Photos by Scott H. Spitzer