In Greek theater, the mask was the thing. The actors wore them to convey tragedy and comedy alike.
Ironically, when The Hippodrome (from the Greek “horse” and “race”) finally reopens, it is likely to be the folks in the audience who are masked.
But nobody knows when the show will be able to go on again at The Hipp. Meanwhile, Gainesville’s only professional theater is struggling to keep, um, body and staff reasonably intact.
“It’s a tough time,” says Hipp creative director Stephanie Lynge. “Our summer show (traditionally a big money maker) is gone, it just wasn’t safe. We can’t do live theater, but we are rehearsing, remotely, for a play that we will record and put on line for sale” later this month.
In the meantime, here’s something fans can do to help keep at least a few Hipp employees drawing a paycheck.
Buy a Hipp Mask.
And more specifically a Depot Park mask, a Mudcrutch mask or a Night Sky Over Paynes Prairie mask.
Or go really go crazy and score a Potato At Turlington mask (don’t ask), or a Dr. Cade’s Studebakers mask.
All of the above, and more, thanks to a creative collaboration between The Hippodrome and former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan.
Who, since the onset of COVID-19, has become sort of the Tzarina of Hogtown Maskdom.
Since early March, Hanrahan’s nonprofit group, GNVcovidmasks.org, has assembled hundreds of volunteers to sew and distribute thousands of masks throughout the community.
While that work continues, she has a new site, HippMasks.org, to market and sell a line of Gainesville-centric masks.
Proceeds from the sale of those masks go to support three theater wardrobe department workers who, having no costumes to sew at present, have instead been turning out hundreds of Hipp Masks.
“They produce between 150 and 175 masks a week,” Hanrahan says of the Hipp sewists. “I just choose the fabrics and the patterns.”
Not to mention the quirky that’s-so-Gainesville names.
“Our entire wardrobe team has been sewing for over three months,” says Lynge. “They help design the masks and Pegeen pays them. They are good quality masks with filters. It’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”
In recent weeks Hanrahan has been on Facebook soliciting name suggestions for this new line of Hipp Masks. There’s a Gainesville High School mask and a Harn museum mask, a Kanapaha Gardens mask and a Santa Fe Zoo mask.
And here’s the thing. If we’ve learned anything from the events of the past few months, it should be that masks are not going to go out of style any time soon. We will almost certainly be donning nose-to-mouth covers in public places for the foreseeable future, if not longer.
Hipp Masks have been for sale at Satchel’s Pizza. Now they can be bought on line.
“If someone told me a year ago that I’d be marketing face masks using Gainesville themed fabrics I’d have said they’ve lost their minds,” says Hanrahan. “But it’s actually been a lot of fun. And as long as they are willing to keep making them I’m going to keep selling them.”
Listen, in the classic Greek theater tradition, there will almost certainly be lots of masks on display when the Hipp finally does get to open its doors.
One way to help turn a pandemic tragedy into a farcical comedy is to show up for curtain call sporting a Chert House Gainesville mask. Or maybe a Spanish Moss At San Felasco mask.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com