Penn’s Mask and Wig Club, the oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe in the United States, will welcome members of all genders for the 2022-2023 academic year.
The decision to eliminate gender as a qualification for membership comes after an “extensive strategic review” involving over 50 undergraduates and alumni of the 400-member Club, President and 1986 Engineering graduate David Simon said. The review process culminated in a vote earlier this week where members approved the change in the organization’s bylaws. Mask and Wig will spend the remainder of this academic year preparing for the change through internal planning and listening sessions with club members, administrators, and other members of the Penn community, according to a Sept. 30 press release.
“The question of gender inclusion received strong support from undergraduate and alumni members spanning eight decades of Mask and Wig membership, and it is the right step for our future,” Simon said.
In addition to making the club more inclusive, the change will better enable Mask and Wig to attract top performers on campus during auditions, Undergraduate Chairman and Wharton senior Dean Jones said.
“In this current moment, it's the perfect time to really open up the club and expand the experience, and by doing so we're expanding our talent pool, we're expanding access to this perfect way to experience musical comedy at a very high level, and we really are just excited to include as many people in this conversation and in this organization as possible,” Jones said.
The decision also illustrates Mask and Wig’s flexibility as a club that seeks to put on performances that are relevant to modern-day audiences, Simon added.
“As times have changed, as the needs or the interests of our audience and our participants in the Penn community have changed, we want to adapt and make sure that we're successful in following our mission of ‘Justice to the stage; credit to the University,’” Simon said.
Mask and Wig is not the first performing arts group to question the importance of gender as a requisite for membership. Just last year, Penn Sirens, a historically all-female singing group, merged with Penn Glee Club, which traditionally had an all-male singing section, to promote gender inclusivity.
Jones said that he does not anticipate a merger with Bloomers, Penn's comedy troupe for gender minorities. Bloomers’ 2021 Co-Inclusion chairs – Wharton and College senior Shriya Beesam and College junior Ashna Yakoob – previously authored an op-ed arguing that gendered clubs should be “a thing of the past.”
Jones added that he is looking forward to working closely with members of the Performing Arts Council and Bloomers to ensure that the implementation process goes smoothly and that everyone on campus can succeed in next year's comedy landscape.
"This is something we're really excited to work hard on over the next year, really to nail down exactly how we're going to implement [the change] and the best ways we can create and foster a really inclusive, inviting community within Mask and Wig," Jones said.