Two days before the opening of “Wishful Sinking,” The Mask and Wig Club’s spring show, the dress rehearsal was bursting with the yells of cast members, the pounding of drill bits, the screeching of violins — and brotherhood.
“Wishful Sinking,” an original musical, depicts a series of mishaps aboard a cruise ship at sea. Planning for the show started almost a year ago, and there will be performances every weekend for three months after the show opens on Jan. 24.
The company has taken on a more ambitious task than usual with “Wishful Sinking” because of all the moving parts in the set. Mask and Wig employs several professional staff members, including a choreographer and a scenic designer, to help with the complexities of its spring show. The staff are paid from proceeds that come from the cash bar and from the renting out of its clubhouse at 310 S. Quince Street for private events.
The clubhouse lies down a back alley between 11th and 12th streets. Beyond its bright red doors, the building is reminiscent of Shakespearean England — although the Smirnoff and Gatorade behind the masks in the dressing room are evidence, too, of the Club’s personality.
Other decorations include antler chandeliers, a petite bar and hundreds of embellished mugs on the walls. Mask and Wig’s Grad Club, whose members are represented in caricatures on the same wall, contributed the mugs.
The Grad Club is composed of 375 alumni who continue to support productions. 2000 College graduate Josh Slatko, the show’s producer and a Grad Club member himself, explained the significance of the group’s involvement.
“It is a great honor to uphold the tradition of Mask and Wig and to pay back some of the opportunity that I was given,” he said. Members include alumni from all over the world who continuously fly back to Philadelphia to attend special evenings and opening nights. Membership is for life, Slatko said.
One alumnus, 1986 Engineering graduate Neil Radisch, has been volunteering for Mask and Wig for 30 years as the music composer. He treks from his Connecticut home to Philadelphia multiple times a year to help out at performances.
Such strong connection to the Club is traced back to 1889, when it was founded by a group of four men and spearheaded by 1891 College graduate Clayton Fotterall McMichael, whose portrait hangs austere in the main room of the clubhouse.
College senior A.J. Rossi, stage manager and undergraduate secretary treasurer, explained exactly why Mask and Wig is special to its alumni. “It’s the nature of our organization — the combination of tradition and camaraderie,” he said.
College senior Kevin Seelaus, who is section head of the cast, added that another part of the Club’s appeal is comedy. “It’s funny when guys dress in drag … People look forward to it and no one complains. If you [have to] dress up as a girl, its fine,” he said. Seelaus’ character wears heels for the entirety of “Wishful Sinking.”
Wearing high heels is the type of sacrifice that all members of the company endure with a smile.
Engineering senior Tommy Sisson, a member of the technical crew, clarified exactly how far the performers are willing to go. “Last night we walked home at 4 a.m. in the snow storm — but it was a fun walk,” he said. He added that “it is not uncommon for [the crew] to work from 10 a.m. to midnight.”
Despite all the work, the rewards are great, according to all of the Mask and Wig members at the rehearsal. “It is so worth it because every time I come to 310 S. Quince Street, it feels like I am coming home,” Sisson said.