Mask and Wig

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Mask and Wig Club of the University of Pennsylvania
Mask&Wig.jpg
Location 310 South Quince Street,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 39°56′45.08″N 75°9′36.48″W / 39.9458556°N 75.1601333°W / 39.9458556; -75.1601333Coordinates: 39°56′45.08″N 75°9′36.48″W / 39.9458556°N 75.1601333°W / 39.9458556; -75.1601333
Area 0.1 acres (0.040 ha)
Built as St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1834;
remodeled into clubhouse 1894,
altered 1901-03
Architect Wilson Eyre
Murals: Maxfield Parrish
Architectural style Bavarian Style
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 79002323[1]
Added to NRHP November 20, 1979

The Mask and Wig Club, a private club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1889, is the oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe in the United States. Created as an alternative to the existing theatrical and dramatic outlets at the University of Pennsylvania, Mask and Wig has presented comedy, music, and dancing to the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and audiences across the country. Its credo is "Justice to the stage and credit to the University."

The club's performers, or "The Cast," put on two all-original shows each year in collaboration with the Club's own Stage Crew, Band, and Business Staff. Many Mask and Wig originals were made famous on the radio by mid 20th century luminaries. The well-known "Route 66" was composed by club member Bobby Troup[2] and launched to the height of popularity by Frank Sinatra. Troup's song "Daddy" was written for a Mask and Wig show. Other Mask and Wig songs, such as "The Gypsy in My Soul," written by Clay Boland and Moe Jaffe, have been performed by the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Ella Fitzgerald. The first electrically recorded album ever released was Mask and Wig's "Joan of Arkansas," in April 1925.

History[edit]

The Mask and Wig Club of the University of Pennsylvania was first conceived of in 1888 by a small group of undergraduates, led by Clayton Fotterall McMichael, who were interested in the stage and desired something the University did not offer: a troupe that would produce original humorous theatrical pieces. In 1889, therefore, McMichael and the other original founders sent out a call for undergraduate men to audition for the group and participate in the creation and production of its first performance.

McMichael and his peers envisioned a group that involved dressing up in frocks and performing spoofs and parodies. Because colleges at the time were open only to young gentlemen any production was limited to an all–male cast. These organizations naturally saw burlesque, which was quite popular in that era, as the perfect genre. The overblown characterizations, loose plotting, musical interludes, and parody of high art made the style perfect for a group of young, well-educated, amateur men, especially since the drag tradition came "built-in."

Founder McMichael combed the local bookstores for a story to produce and found it in Henry Byron's The Nymphs of the Lurleyburg. With a little pirating and a bit of imagination, "Lurline," the Club's first production, hit the boards at the Chestnut Street Opera House on June 4, 1889, for one night only. Backed financially by the ladies of Philadelphia high society, the Club enjoyed great success in its early years. With increasingly reliable audience turnout and revenue from ticket sale, the runs were extended and the Club established a fine tradition among Philadelphia's theater–going society. Moreover, the club also made a very strong impression on campus and it achieved great notoriety within its first year of existence.[3]

Company members rehearsing at the clubhouse in 1930.

In 1894 the Club purchased a property at 310 South Quince Street to serve as a gathering place and rehearsal hall, the Mask and Wig Clubhouse. The building had been erected by the first African-American Lutheran congregation in America as St. Paul's Lutheran Church in 1834, but had been sold during the Civil War and converted into a coachhouse and stable, and later into a dissecting room for medical students. Prominent Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre was commissioned to remodel the building, and hired the young Maxfield Parrish, who would later become one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century, to decorate the interior. The Grille Room was decorated with caricatures of members; a tradition that continues today, with the second century of members' caricatures continued upstairs at the entrance to the auditorium. Eyre expanded the clubhouse to its present size, 1901-03.

The Club prospered throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The middle of this century was a heady time for the Club. Mask and Wig songs were the rage of the big band orchestras, radio shows, and solo acts of the day. The likes of Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Rosemary Clooney, and Les Brown all covered Mask and Wig tunes. Between 1952 and 1958, the club appeared four times on The Ed Sullivan Show.[4] The 1961 production, Wry on the Rocks, introduced a satirical revue format in a cabaret atmosphere. In 1992, with Myth America, Mask and Wig returned the student–written book musical to its stage, a practice which continues to this day. Important in the show's success are the traditional high standards in the caliber of performers and excellence of the material performed. The Club's primary purpose has always been and continues to be, "Justice to the stage and credit to the University."

Immediately after the end of World War II the Mask and Wig dormitory on the residence quadrangle was used to house a U.S. Army unit assigned to quickly learn the Japanese language. Upon the completion of the study the soldiers were to be commissioned in the U.S. Army and serve in the Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) of the Army in Japan. This army unit had classes in the University in the Egyptian Antiquities room while being scrutinized by several mummies. Classes were also held in the Wharton School of Business. Jerry Epple, who is making this report, says he remembers to this day the stone carving of a mask and wig near the dormitory entrance.

Today, Mask and Wig maintains its position as one of the premier extracurricular activities on the Penn campus. Its yearly tour over spring break brings the show to alumni clubs across the nation.[5]

Sections[edit]

The Mask and Wig Club is made up of four distinct sections: the cast, the band, the crew, and the business staff.

The cast writes and performs all of its own material during the Fall and Spring Shows. The band often functions as a pit orchestra, playing original, self-arranged pieces for the Fall show, and professionally arranged pieces for the Spring production. The band also holds the headliner spot at the University of Pennsylvania's annual Spring Fling festival. The crew builds elaborate, ornate, and completely original sets for both the Fall and Spring Shows. The business staff is responsible for advertising and selling tickets for the club's shows.

Club Organization[edit]

The Mask and Wig Club has two components: the Undergraduate Company and the Graduate Club. The Undergraduate Company is composed of current undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania, who are the performers in and creators of each year's productions. They are the public face of the organization.

The Graduate Club is composed of Mask and Wig Alumni. The Graduate Club is responsible for many of the decisions that guide the Undergraduate Club, including overseeing many aspects of the production of the Spring Show, and the maintenance of the Clubhouse. They provide much of the funding for the maintenance Clubhouse and were responsible for raising the funds for its renovation. The Graduate Club and the Undergraduate Club interface through regular Board of Governors meetings, which feature both Undergraduate and Graduate club members.

Free Show[edit]

Free Show is the first Mask and Wig show of the academic year. The show is held during the first week of the academic year and is free of charge to all new freshman. The cast performs classic bits that are tried and true. Free Show serves a few purposes: it introduces the new freshman of the University of Pennsylvania to one of Penn's oldest institutions, and hopes to recruit new members by displaying what membership in the group entails.

Fall Show[edit]

Each fall, the undergraduates produce their own sketch comedy show that runs for one week in a theater on Penn's campus. The upperclassmen handle all aspects of production from acting direction to choreography to musical production. A notable highlight of the show is the Second Act Opener which consists of a medley of songs from a famous musician or group, but with parodied lyrics that often follow a Penn-centered plot. Past parodied musicians include Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, The Beatles, Aerosmith, Disney, and Queen.

ComFest[edit]

In 1999, Mask and Wig established an annual Intercollegiate Comedy Festival to showcase the talent of the nation’s best collegiate sketch comedy troupes. The mission of the festival is not just to put on a hilarious show that cultivates new talent, but also to honor and showcase a well-known comedian. Each host does a stand-up routine for the audience and participates in sketches with Mask and Wig.[6] Past college sketch troupes include:

Past guest hosts include:

Spring Show[edit]

The Spring Show, historically known as the Annual Production, is the theatrical centerpiece of Mask and Wig. Performed at The Mask and Wig Clubhouse, the production is an original show that runs from late January through March. While the format of the Spring Show has evolved over the years, the show currently runs as a full "book" musical comedy, complete with singing and tap dancing.

Unlike the Fall Show, the Annual Production is professionally composed, directed, and choreographed by some of the best talents in the industry. The script, however, is written by the Club's cast.

Tour[edit]

During spring break the troupe takes their show around the country as they road trip across the United States, usually performing in areas with a high Penn alumni concentration. The trip usually includes about four to six stops. In recent years the tour has taken Wig to cities like Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Toronto.

The tour is yet another one of the group's many traditions. In Mask and Wig's hey day, the group had its own train car that it would use to do a similar tour around the nation.

Spring Fling[edit]

The Mask and Wig Band traditionally headlines the last day of Spring Fling performances, which is typically a Saturday, at the stage in the Lower Quad. They generally perform an hour long set of covers of popular music. Members of the cast generally sing for the band, along with female vocalists from other Penn performing arts groups. The other members of the company join the band on stage for the duration of the performance, and the show concludes with the singing of the Mask and Wig hallmark musical number, Tradition, by the senior members of the company.

Clubhouse Art[edit]

Working in his studio just a few blocks away at Thirteenth and Walnut Streets, Maxfield Parrish received one of his first commissions in 1894 from Mask and Wig. This first job came as he was finishing his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy; it was for decoration of the stage proscenium and ticket window, illustration of a number of caricatures on the wall of the Grille Room, and most notably the Old King Cole mural. This was the start of his professional career; shortly after seeing the mural, the editor of “Harpet’s” Magazine invited Parrish to do some of their covers for which he became famous. He would continue working for the Club to finish a total of 35 caricatures and illustrate the earliest program covers.

Wilson Eyre was older and more established than Parrish when he began working on the Clubhouse, and was good friends with Parrish’s father, Stephen. Eyre was the architect in charge of renovating the Club’s new home and transforming it from a stable into a “Bavarian” themed Clubhouse. His first remodel in 1894 transformed the space from the stable by adding an entry hall with stairs, designing and decorating the Grille Room, and turning the second floor into a theater. Eyre designed most of the furniture in the Grille Room; three of the original tables still exist and will be returned to the Clubhouse upon its reopening. Eyre also oversaw the second major change. The building was enlarged in 1903 by adding 10 feet to the front creating the façade that still exists there today. Eyre’s original drawing of the front design, created in 1902, is shown to the right. Eyre’s design has endured for over a century with few changes aside from the ongoing addition of paneling for caricatures in the Grille Room and Theater. Though Eyre’s career included several projects like the Clubhouse, he is best known for his design of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum.

Clubhouse Renovations[edit]

Immediately following the close of the 2007 Spring show, the clubhouse began to undergo a massive renovation. In addition to bringing the building up to modern code, the club also installed an elevator and central air unit. The construction, originally projected to be complete in time for a normal Spring show run, experienced a number of delays and setbacks. On the morning of March 15, 2008, a fire broke out in the attic of the clubhouse, setting back the completion date indefinitely. While nothing of historical significance was critically damaged, the 2008 Spring show, "West Wing Story", could not go on in the club's signature theater.

Luckily, the club had a contingency plan in case of such an emergency, and was able to put on their show after all. "West Wing Story" played for two weekends in April, 2008, at the Prince Music Theater in downtown Philadelphia, marking the first annual production to be performed at a venue other than the clubhouse since 1960. The generosity of Mask and Wig's Graduate Club made it financially possible to perform in a professional theater. With renovations still behind schedule in 2009, the annual production "Oh, the Humanities!" was also performed at the Prince Music Theater for three weekends, selling a record number of tickets due to the large theater capacity.

The clubhouse renovation was completed in the fall of 2009, allowing the club to once again return to its own stage for the 2010 Annual Productuction, "A Cheshire Catastrophe".

Graduate Leadership[edit]

President: James Praley '76

Vice-President: Franc Marmero '99

Secretary: Stephen Loughin '77

Treasurer: Joseph A. Fillip, Jr. '80

Business Manager: Joshua F. Slatko '00

Historian: Stephen Goff '62

2014-2015 Undergraduate Leadership[edit]

Chairman: Rishi Simha

Secretary Treasurer: Peter McGuckin

Annual Production Head Writer: Danny Rodriguez

Business Manager: Sam Korus

Stage Manager: Alex Ghanem

Band Leader: Wyatt Shapiro

Cast Director: Joe Miciak

List of Annual Productions[edit]

List of Fall Shows[edit]

  • 1971 No, But I Read the Cliff Notes
  • 1972 You Ain't Nothin' But A Blue Suede Shoe
  • 1973 Don't Throw Money
  • 1974 Holding the Bag
  • 1975 [Sic] Humor
  • 1976 FurKing in the Jungle
  • 1977 All You Can Eat
  • 1978 Parodies Lost
  • 1979 Fill 'Er Up
  • 1981 Ring Job
  • 1982 Wit Or Witout
  • 1983 No Eggrolls For Me Thank You I've Just Been Vaccinated
  • 1984 Shooting Stars: A Hollywood Murder Musical
  • 1985 Eat Wit and Die
  • 1986 What a Drag
  • 1987 Your Mother
  • 1988 Pippin or Hamlet Prince of Denmark
  • 1989 Sex, Lies and Masking Tape
  • 1990 Saddam & Gomorrah
  • 1991 Male Chauvinist Wyg
  • 1992 Debauchery, Debacle and Decandlestickmaker
  • 1993 Ah Brutus, You Kill Me
  • 1994 Carpe Stouffer: Seize the Tray
  • 1995 Freudian Slip
  • 1996 Something To Do Before You Get Mugged
  • 1997 What Willis Was Talking About
  • 1998 Bidets of Thunder
  • 1999 The End Of The World As We Wrote It
  • 2000 You Are the Wind Beneath My Fingers, Wings and Other Things
  • 2001 Win Ben Stein's Wife and Kids
  • 2002 Less Miserable
  • 2003 Donkey Donuts
  • 2004 Waiting for Gutmann
  • 2005 Hogan's Gyros
  • 2006 Singin' in Bahrain
  • 2007 Phallus in Wonderland
  • 2008 Oil Vey!
  • 2009 Conquistadora the Explorer
  • 2010 Ra and UnTut
  • 2011 Mario Brothers, Where Art Thou?
  • 2012 Tights, Camera, Action!
  • 2013 A State of Confucian

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]