The University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club — which bills itself as the nation’s oldest all-male collegiate comedy troupe — will welcome women into its ranks in the 2022-23 academic year.
“Over the last several years, there has been a societal shift in the understanding and recognition of gender identities,” said Wharton senior Dean Jones, chairman of the undergraduate division and marketing major. “This is setting us up for the most success going forward.”
The club, which was founded in 1889 and owns a club house in Center City, put the matter to a vote in late September after a year of reflection during the pandemic. Of the approximately 400 eligible to vote, more than 300 cast ballots, with more than 75% in favor of the change, Jones said.
In making the change, they are following in the footsteps of Penn’s formerly all-women comedy sketch club, the Bloomers. Last year, the club voted to expand their membership according to their ABCD policy — “Anybody But a Cis Dude,” meaning anyone who was male at birth and still identifies as a man (whether gay or straight). Cis dudes can join the Bloomers’ band, though.
“We wanted to keep ourselves as a troupe that was focused on including under-represented gender groups,” said Shriya Beesam, who chairs the Bloomers and is a senior majoring in finance and biology.
Jones said Mask and Wig members and leaders are now consulting with campus affinity groups (including the Bloomers) and are undergoing training to make sure the club is creating a safe space for its newest members. They are particularly focusing on unconscious cultural habits that may be prevalent in all-male organizations. Dressing rooms won’t be a problem, Jones said. There’s plenty of room backstage in the club house to accommodate everyone.
Both groups are in rehearsal now for their upcoming shows.
The Bloomers’ show, “Off the Rails” runs Oct. 28-30 at the Harold Prince Theatre at the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. For information, facebook.com/BloomersComedy. Masks required. Penn students must present a green PennOpen pass. Other attendees must show proof of vaccination and complete a Penn screening to enter.
Even at the Wilma Theater, which talks about collaboration nonstop, it’s the kind of thing that could have been awkward. Wilma co-artistic director Morgan Green, who not only co-created all sorts of iterations of Wilma’s current offering, Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, but also directed every single one of them in runs in New York and Connecticut, is not directing Minor Character at Wilma.
That job falls to Yury Urnov. Urnov isn’t just some director plucked off the street to direct the Anton Chekov mash-up running through Oct. 24. He’s one of Wilma’s four co-artistic directors, along with Green.
“There has to be artistic trust,” Green said. “We have a very good working relationship.”
Green said she deliberately stayed away from most rehearsals to give Urnov space to add his own spin. “I feel I’m in a really good place with it,” she said. “I had a couple of lengthy conversations with Yuri early on.”
The bare outline of the play itself was created by an ensemble — Green, Madeline Wise, and Milo Cramer, co-founders of New York’s New Saloon Theatre Co. — with the idea that the actors in rehearsal would ultimately produce the finished product. Green said she never expected the play to have a life outside the New Saloon ensemble, but she tossed it into the hat for consideration when she, Urnov, James Ijames, the third Wilma artistic director, and Wilma founder Blanka Zizka were planning future seasons.
“The guy who is directing it is actually Russian,” Green said, speaking of Urnov, who was born in Moscow and has directed more than 40 productions in his home country. Like all Russians, Green said, Urnov “has a very sacred relationship with Chekov. It’s very deep and personal and you can’t understand it unless you’re Russian.”
The play involves actors all doing different versions of Chekhov’s 1898 play about love, a country estate, and ennui. Green describes it as chaotic, almost like a choral piece. “The script is a little inscrutable,” she laughed. Google Translate even gets a credit line.
“Yuri’s playfulness” made him excited by the text, she said. “He’s got a sort of impish clown quality as a director which works really well for this.”
Green, who directed Wilma’s spring production of Ijames’ play, Fat Ham, is looking forward to joining the audience to watch Minor Character on stage.
“I think it’s actually really fun,” she said before the play opened. “I’ll go to opening night and I’ll be blown away.”
Through Oct. 24 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. Livestreaming is available. Vaccination proof and masks required.
Temple University’s theater department opens its 2021-22 season this fall with Spring Awakening, the musical based on adolescent anarchy, teen rebellion, and a sense of joy and longing. While the topics are serious, including suicide as well as physical and sexual abuse, the music stays true to its pop-rock roots.
‘The Ongoing Plight of the Ferryman’
These days Help Wanted signs are everywhere and like many others, Kharon is on the hunt for someone to replace him at his job. No word about salary or benefits in this public transit posting, but the role involves transporting the dearly departed to the other side. Job title? Ferryman. Brainchild Stageworkx, a Philadelphia theater company, presents The Ongoing Plight of the Ferryman, a dark musical comedy.
Fri.-Sun. through Oct. 31 at Plays and Players Theater, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. Mask and proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test required. For information and tickets, stageworkx.com.
‘Walking After Midnight: A Patsy Cline Tribute’
Carter Calvert, the Broadway actress best known for originating her role in the Tony-nominated Broadway musical It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, returns to the Bucks County Playhouse with a one-woman salute to singer Patsy Cline titled Walking After Midnight: A Patsy Cline Tribute.
‘A Holy Show’ and ‘The Weir’
Two local productions tap into the rich culture of Ireland — A Holy Show presented by Inis Nua Theatre Co. and The Weir, at Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre Co. A whirlwind comedy, A Holy Show is based on the true story of a disgraced Australian monk who tries to hijack a passenger jet. His weapon? Holy water. Two actors play all 20 characters. The Weir, by playwright Conor McPherson, takes place in a small rural bar in Ireland where conversations get deeper and darker with each passing hour and pint. Hedgerow’s children’s production, Robin Hood, continues through Oct. 24.