Although The Mask and Wig Club has performed its show “No Place Like Rome” almost every weekend this semester, one audience member made the show on Friday, March 24, especially memorable — Penn President Amy Gutmann.
“It was definitely something I was not expecting,” College senior and Mask and Wig Cast Director Maurin Mwombela said. “But there was this added bit of excitement for a lot of the people performing, to know that she was there.”
Their excitement was compounded by the fact that this was, in their time at Penn, the first Mask and Wig show Gutmann has attended.
According to the organization's Secretary-Treasurer and College and Wharton senior Milan Savani, Gutmann's name cannot be found in ticket archives since 2014. Mask and Wig Graduate Club Business Manager and 2000 College graduate Joshua Slatko concurred; as far as he can recall, Gutmann hadn't attended a show at the Mask and Wig Clubhouse since her inauguration.
Mask and Wig Head Writer and College senior Nate McLeod also has not seen Gutmann at a show during his time at Penn.
“It’s just a thing that’s known throughout the theater arts community that she doesn’t go to these shows,” Mwombela said. “Because she’s busy and doesn’t want to give preference.”
Her absence was spoofed in the fall of 2004, when the group performed a show called “Waiting for Gutmann.”
A Penn official said Gutmann has been to Mask and Wig shows "several times" since becoming president, but the official did not "have specific dates."
"She has performed along with Mask and Wig in the past few years at a Trustees event honoring George Weiss, in addition to seeing Mask and Wig perform at the annual Ivy Day ceremony," the official said.
“There’s definitely been a relationship between Mask and Wig and Amy Gutmann,” College senior and Wig Chairman Tim Bloom clarified, citing the party that the organization threw Gutmann when she became Penn’s president in 2004. “But I think this is the first show she’s been to, so everyone was really pumped.”
He added that Gutmann was "very friendly" and "very congratulatory" which Wig members appreciated.
College senior and Wig Stage Manager Spencer Winson agreed.
“She was incredibly nice and gracious and came well before the performance to mingle,” Winson said. “She was up to laugh. She was up to enjoy the music. And it’s great that she came — that she came to be a patron and participate.”
For Winson, the nature of the play made Gutmann’s attendance at this show even more salient.
“This production is incredibly strong and incredibly relevant to Penn. It’s topical, it’s funny, and it has some humor related to Greek life and OCR,” Winson said. “I think that makes it extra special for her to see.”
According to an official statement from President Gutmann, Winson isn’t the only one who thinks so.
"I had an absolutely wonderful time, as always, at Mask and Wig’s spring show," Gutmann said. "Penn's student performing arts groups are an extraordinary source of both edification and entertainment. So many — like Mask and Wig — are also unique Penn treasures.”
Including Gutmann as a character on stage is nothing novel to Wig. According to Bloom, she was featured in almost every fall show in recent memory.
“She’s a fun character to bring to life every year. She is loved and critiqued, and I personally think she has a great sense of humor,” Winson said. “She is to some extent, the most ‘Penn’ figure we have other than Dean Furda or the Quaker mascot.”
After clearing it with the president’s office the afternoon before the show, Bloom invited Gutmann onto the stage to sing Penn’s song, "The Red and Blue." Although it is sung after every Wig performance, Winson felt it was particularly significant to do so in the presence of President Gutmann.
“We sing it every week, twice a week and most of the time, you don’t think about what it really entails. But, this time it was like ‘oh wow, this is our cheer, our motto, our university anthem.’” and most of the time, you don’t think about what it really entails. But, this time it was like ‘oh wow, this is our cheer, our motto, our university anthem.’”