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United States Naval Academy’s Masqueraders Presents Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Professor Christy Stanlake

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United States Naval Academy Masqueraders Presents
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

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When one thinks about military officer training, theatre rarely comes to mind.  Yet one of our region’s oldest theatre companies is housed at the United States Naval Academy. The Masqueraders, a professionally directed theatre troupe of Midshipmen actors and technical theatre artists has been in continuous operation (officially) since 1907. This year, the Masqueraders presents Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a classic script that has—like this improbable theatre company—lasted the test of time.

The first unofficial USNA theatrical productions began in 1846. In the spirit of Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, the Midshipmen claimed that they were creating theatre to “civilize the city of Annapolis,” but their celebratory antics following the performance’s successful opening night grew a bit unruly for good society. Navy theatre then went underground until the USNA Commandant granted the Masqueraders official status in 1907, making the theatre club USNA’s oldest extra-curricular activity. The Masqueraders moved into the newly finished Mahan Hall, one of architect Ernest Flagg’s (1857-1947) Beaux Art buildings which defined the “New Naval Academy.” Since then, the Masqueraders’ performances have been open to both the Brigade of Midshipmen and to the general theatergoing public.

MIDN David Travis (class of 1951) as Peggy and MIDN Ace Boughton (class of 1949) in the Masqueraders’ 1948 production of 'Boy Meets Girl.'

MIDN David Travis (class of 1951) as Peggy and MIDN Ace Boughton (class of 1949) in the Masqueraders’ 1948 production of ‘Boy Meets Girl.’

Over that last century, the Masqueraders has shifted to meet and often celebrate the many changes facing the ages and the US Military. When the group began, many male Midshipmen devoted tireless hours to learning how to walk in heels and how to sit and stand as proper ladies so that they could believably perform female roles. In the 1980s, the Masqueraders welcomed female Midshipmen who joined the Academy and its theatre troupe. The direction of Masqueraders changed to become more serious. Faculty directors with professional theatrical experience began to head the troupe, and the selection of plays the group produced began to focus on more serious issues and ethical questions that face our nation’s leaders.

After September 11, 2001, the Masqueraders saw a decline in its public audiences because general access to the Naval Academy Yard became more restricted.  Though parking on the yard is still limited to those with clearance, the Masqueraders’ plays remain open to the general public. Pedestrians can enter the Yard at Maryland Avenue’s Gate 3. Once on the yard, they continue to walk one block on Maryland Avenue to Mahan Theatre, under Flagg’s famous Beaux Art clock tower.

Midshipmen Kiley Provenzano, Judy Valderrabano, Nik Lutton, and Mark Pfender perform in Zimmerman’s 'The Arabian Nights' (2011).  Photo by Roger Miller.

Midshipmen Kiley Provenzano, Judy Valderrabano, Nik Lutton, and Mark Pfender perform in Zimmerman’s ‘The Arabian Nights’ (2011). Photo by Roger Miller.

Today’s Naval Academy Masqueraders is directed by Professor Christy Stanlake, who holds a Ph.D. in theatre and has extensive acting and directing credits in educational and professional venues. Richard Montgomery, a designer twice-nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Set Design, designs the Masqueraders’ sets and costumes. Associate Professor Jason Shaffer, an expert in pre-twentieth-century American theatre, serves as dramaturge. The Masqueraders presents an annual Fall mainstage play that often draws about 1,000 theatregoers (Navy and public) during its two weekend run.  Recent productions have included:  Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (2011); Mary Zimmerman’sThe Arabian Nights (2010); and Lynn Riggs’s Green Grow the Lilacs (2009), which toured to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Over the last decade, all of the Masqueraders’ productions have received strongly favorable reviews from area theatre critics, many of whom are often surprised to discover first-rate theatre on the grounds of a military institution.

MIDN Mike Foster (class of 2013) rehearses the role of Aaron for Masqueraders’ 2012 production of 'Titus Andronicus. Photo by MIDN Josh Ramey (class of 2013).

MIDN Mike Foster (class of 2013) rehearses the role of Aaron for Masqueraders’ 2012 production of ‘Titus Andronicus. Photo by MIDN Josh Ramey (class of 2013).

“My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree,” declares Algernon. Similarly, the Masqueraders’ production of The Importance of Being Earnest stages the humorous, and often complicated, juxtaposition of one’s social responsibilities and desires for amusement. Such is the balancing act that the United States Naval Academy theatre program has skillfully accomplished in over a century of theatre making.

The Masqueraders invites you to join us for an evening of Wilde’s antics in the lush, historic Mahan Theatre. We promise a surprising evening of excellent theatre performed by our nation’s future military leaders.

Earnest Online Ad_200x200The Importance of Being Earnest runs November 15, 16, 22, and 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM in Mahan Theatre, which is located on Maryland Avenue under Flagg’s historic clock tower. Members of the public are welcome to attend by walking in Gate 3 on Maryland Avenue (one block from Mahan Theatre) or Gate 1 near the Annapolis Harbor on Prince George and Randall Streets. All members of the public who are over 18 years of age must show a government issued photo ID—such as a drivers’ license—to enter the Yard. Theatregoers with physical disabilities and handicapped tags may drive onto the yard by following protocol described on USNA’s Visitors’ Page.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or in advanced by calling (410) 293-TIXS (8497), or online. Mahan Theatre will open at 7:00 PM on Friday and Saturday performance evenings. Here is more information about the Masqueraders.

 

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