Tucked away on a quaint side street in the heart of Philadelphia's Gayborhood is a Pennstitution like no other. Many Penn students are familiar with the Mask and Wig Club from their fall show at the Iron Gate Theater or their infamous Fling performances. Much fewer know of the group's clubhouse in Center City, located at 310 S. Quince Street, and their season–long spring musical performed there. This is what makes M&W so unlike the many other performing arts groups on campus.
Because it has its own clubhouse in the heart of Philadelphia, M&W functions not so much as a campus group, but rather an entire theater–company. Each year, the theme of the show in the following spring is chosen and worked on over the summer. The time commitment is relentless. Before NSO, all the writers meet to write the first draft of the script. Towards the end of semester, all of M&W—cast, crew, business staff, and the band—spend about half of Penn's already–short winter break rehearsing for opening night. This means that this year, while the rest of campus was home with the bomb cyclone raging outside, the M&W crew was braving the cold to construct the perfect elementary school in their clubhouse.
The Spring show for 2018 opened on January 20. Titled Juice Box Hero, it centers around a grade school science fair, meddling helicopter parents, and interference from D.O.E. special agents. How any of this could possibly come together—that's for the audience to find out. But perhaps the knockout performance of the night was by Eric Calvo (C '19) during his number “At the D.O.E.” Playing the conniving spurned villain in his first lead role, Calvo belted out an impressive range of notes all while tap dancing. Other notable performances came from the chemistry between Sam "Jessica" Korn (C '18) and Nico "Toby" Carrino (C '18) with the former displaying exceptional vocal tone during “Is He Holding Me Back.”
As professional as the production seems, of course, being a student company comes with its own challenges. Typical theatre or performing arts companies retain their artists for an extended period of time. So while the production of M&W resembles that of these professional companies, it still faces the mounting challenge of their cast and crew not leaving the show, but graduating. Every year, one fourth of the members graduate and every year, new writers take on the task of reworking the script. It's a yearly fresh start.
For example, the group's Spring 2017 show, There's No Place Like Rome, relied heavily on the acting capabilities of the graduating seniors. However, in contrast, the show this year relied more so on its script, allowing for a true ensemble performance. M&W, unlike its all–female counterpart Bloomers, does not have a separate writing staff for its shows and the cast members are able to gain experience in many different realms of theatre. As Tyler Bloom (C '18), Head Writer of "Juice Box Hero," puts it, "our people grow into their writing roles." They're true renaissance men: dancers, actors, singers, and writers.
In addition to performing every Friday and Saturday until April 7, the group also tours the country. Their Spring Break tour will take the cast around local college campuses, performing in New York, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago. “Everyone's goal for the tour is to reconnect with alums and to bring the Wig experience to various communities,” said Bloom. It's an experience not to be missed, especially by Penn students.
*An earlier version of this article stated that the Fall Show took place in Houston Hall instead of Iron Gate Theater, that only the Cast and Crew trained over break instead of the Cast, Crew, Band, and Business staff together, that the tap number sung by Eric Calvo was "Ms. Hertz" instead of "At the D.O.E.," that Tyler Bloom was Director of the show and President of the Mask and Wig Club instead of the Head Writer, and that Mask and Wig would be touring in between New York, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago instead of touring the four cities separately. 34th Street regrets these errors.