The Mask and Wig Club’s 2023 Annual Production is the first in its 134-year history to feature a gender-inclusive cast, generating positive reactions from the Penn community.
The 134th Annual Production: A Doomsday in the Life — which is running every Friday and Saturday night until Mar. 31 — is a full-length musical comedy featuring original sketches and musical numbers related to the doomsday theme. Founded as an all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe in 1889, Mask and Wig announced in the fall of 2021 that it would be eliminating the male gender requirement as a qualification for participation and membership beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year. Last semester, the group added five non-male members to the cast, one to the band, four to the business staff, and three to the stage crew.
Mask and Wig alumni and current members said they view the opening of the troupe's membership to all gender identities in a positive light.
1986 Mask and Wig alumnus and producer for the Annual Production Mark Cronin said, “I see this as a great, positive move that the group made. It’s obvious on stage the joy that everyone is performing with.”
Regarding the new non-male members, College senior and Mask and Wig Secretary-Treasurer Eli Cohen added that having new perspectives in the group has been "so valuable" to their comedic work. Engineering senior and Mask and Wig Undergraduate Chair Thomas Fanelli added that "it adds another element to our comedy."
This year, Mask and Wig gave everyone in the company the opportunity to write for the Annual Production, allowing the non-male members to make large contributions to the script.
Because Mask and Wig was founded in the burlesque theater tradition involving a cross-dressing style of performance, cast members are not necessarily assigned to parts based on their gender.
“The casting practice basically became that anyone can play any character regardless of the performer’s gender identity, as long as they’re comfortable doing it,” Cohen said.
The decision to open up the group came following an extensive strategic review and received strong support from undergraduate and alumni members. The all-gender cast first performed last semester in their Fall Show.
While the fall audition for Mask and Wig was open to all genders, all the new cast members are female-identifying students. These new members said they recognize the significance of their membership in the troupe.
“For a club with so much history, it’s kinda fun to know you are the first one to do something — that you were the one who helped break this barrier, ” College freshman and cast member Emilia Bronk said.
College junior Sophie Faircloth added that the group offered a welcoming environment to the new members.
“I was a little bit worried that an organization would have trouble making a transition that quickly and account for all the new voices,” Faircloth said. “I was really glad to see that everyone across the board was really incredible and welcoming with allowing us into the group."
To prepare for the switch to a gender-inclusive policy, Mask and Wig worked with Associate Director of the LGBT Center Malik Muhammad, Director of Student Performing Arts Laurie McCall, and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
“We wanted to make sure we were being thoughtful about it and not just opening up auditions without any foresight,” Cohen said.
Despite changes to small traditions — such as adapting the lyric that used to say “men of Pennsylvania” to “friends of Pennsylvania” — members said that the group dynamic and mission of the club have stayed the same.
“As someone who’s been in the group for four years and is now leading it, it’s pretty clear to me that not really much has changed. We have a new vocal layer, we have more talented people, but it’s still the same group,” Fanelli said.
Looking forward to the future of Mask and Wig, College sophomore and new cast member Isabella Marcellino expressed optimism about the inclusivity of the group.
“We’re in a time of transition, and I think it’s going wonderfully," Marcellino said. "I’m really excited to become an upperclassman and become a leader in Mask and Wig eventually."