Mask and Wig isn't your average group–it's the oldest all–male collegiate musical comedy troupe in the country. Although it's filled with integral members such as the performers, business staff, and stage crew, the band is also crucial to tying the show together. Full of musicians from across the country, it's an eclectic group of guys who love to come together and deliver a great show, and Street got to catch up with a few members and talk about this semester's performance.
The troupe's Spring musical, The Book of Mermen, is a spectacular experience. It centers on a theme of oceanic adventure, and the laughs never stop as the entertainment stays top–notch from beginning to end. To this effect, the band's efforts play a huge role. They added tension or lightheartedness courtesy of a few piano chords, bass strums, or drum kicks, while the musical pieces came together in an incredible combination of chorus and orchestra befitting one of Penn’s top performing arts groups. Pianist Nick Buckenham (W ’19) praised the group’s cohesiveness.
“The community is unparalleled and everyone is so close–we’re united by this shared goal of a fantastic performance,” Nick said. “I love the support, the way Wig has prepared me for the real world, provided me leadership [opportunities], and allowed me to make friends–some of the best at Penn and even in my whole life.”
As bandleader this semester, trombonist Joe Sileo (C ’19) discussed the importance of working together and each musician’s capacity to handle personal responsibilities. “Everyone’s part of the process–a lot of times in structural organizations, you might have to wait to put your ideas out, but that’s not the case for us since everyone provides notes in rehearsal,” Joe said. “If anyone’s struggling, we can help them out or help them focus on what they’re strong at.”
Regarding the adjustments that he’s made this year as the head honcho, Joe stressed that “I’ve always been really interested in writing, so I tried to make the process more streamlined and engaging this year, as it’s tough to adjust to it at first. I’ve tried to push that so that the older people who know how things work can help the younger members in that regard.”
Drummer Malhar Singh (C ’20) spoke to the differences between the Fall and Spring shows. “In the Spring, there’s more emphasis on the direction and flow of songs,” Malhar said. “Fall is about people getting a quick taste of us playing together loudly and intensely, whereas music is more of a journey in the Spring show.” Joe shared a similar sentiment, noting that “it’s two different styles–it’s more about short snippets of creativity in the Fall, whereas in the Spring it’s more about putting things together in the professional product sense. Each piece is much more nuanced and fine–tuned, as a huge aspect is working with the cast and supporting what happens thematically.”
The members also highlighted the personal value of their experience with the group. Joe emphasized its capacity as a creative outlet: “I’ve gotten to compose my own music as well as perform in a wide variety of environments, from theaters, to formals, to the Franklin Institute during Quaker days, to College Hall for Homecoming.” Malhar included that “one of the most impactful moments was the weekend before my first Fall show–seeing these people above me spend so much time making a great experience for new members such as myself was great, and seeing people invest in one another as a whole has been amazing. We’re more than just friends–our deep relationships have allowed us to trust each other and be accountable in the product we’re building.”
The musicians also have unique background stories in how they originally joined the band. Nick heard about Mask and Wig while he was still in high school from a friend who was part of the troupe. “I stayed with him when I visited, and he knew I was a musician, so he told me about Wig,” Nick said. “It sounded really cool, so I wrote about Mask and Wig in my Penn essay, and I tried out and got in when I got here.” Joe mentioned that he didn’t even know about Mask and Wig: “I heard sounds in the lower quad while moving in [freshman year] and saw someone drumming–it was different from anything I’d heard about,” he said. “It was pop songs and TV theme songs, so I looked it up and thought it would be cool and something different to join. Once that got started, everything else fell away–it felt so much more fun and engaging.”
The Book of Mermen is playing every weekend until April 5, including a tour over Spring Break–so there’s plenty of opportunities to see the show until then. “I think the experience of seeing the show downtown, the camaraderie, the history of the clubhouse, the sheer professional quality of the show, and how funny it can be makes it so cool,” Nick said. “It’s just unique and special and at the very least, we love to have people come see how much fun we’re having–and our end goal is to make sure people have fun." Joe added: “Entertainment ultimately is a form of distraction in a lot of ways–I think you can be confident that you can come to the clubhouse, enjoy yourself, have a good time, and leave feeling better than you did coming in.”