The year is 2008, and it's a match made in heaven -- heaven being West Philadelphia. This was the fateful year of the founding of Applied Mechanics theater company, when lighting designer Maria Shaplin met director Rebecca Wright. Maria was tattoo'd with images of lighting instruments, and steeped in riot grrl aesthetic. Becky was a brilliant nerd with a penchant for prairie skirts and old T-shirts with radical leftist slogans. These two shared a love of dioramas, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and experimental performance art. Their friendship birthed a group that Philly Weekly once called, "Philadelphia's most unusual theater company."
Applied Mechanics was born from a sincere desire to make magic from nothing -- a DIY aesthetic championed by designer Maria Shaplin that allowed the small company to convert West Philly apartments into fishing villages, mountain ranges and antarctic wastelands. The early shows were rehearsed and performed in apartments. The audiences were invited to walk wherever they wanted, follow whichever character intrigued them, and eat or drink whatever treats they found along the way. The scale of this immersive magic trick was multiplied tenfold as the group started to take over warehouses, art galleries and old gymnasiums. They performed a 26-actor history of Napoleonic Europe (Vainglorious). They created a drought-stricken surveillance state in a South Philly warehouse (Overseers). They made protest piece honor of political prisoners Pussy Riot with an original punk score (We Are Bandits) and later, played those songs on the same stage as now-liberated Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonikova. They've toured from Maine to Texas and conducted workshops at places like Turner Broadcasting and Microsoft, teaching their style of collaboration and parallel-narrative storytelling. But what in the world is parallel-narrative storytelling?
Applied Mechanics believes in giving audience members agency. Their plays are environments to walk though, elaborate universes where the viewer can follow whatever story they please, investigate secrets, and curate their own experience within the immersive set. It’s like a haunted house with many stories all interwoven, all happening simultaneously. You might just as easily see someone doing their laundry as starting a revolution in an Applied Mechanics play. The company believes in showing the quotidian moments of life alongside the grand ones — respecting the everyday labor (particularly domestic, often invisible labor) that is rarely depicted in stories. The choices the audience makes of what to watch will have consequences in what they understand to be the "plot", and three different people could emerge with three different ideas about what play they saw.
Applied Mechanics is a company of 7 artist/performers, who share a love of radical democratic process. All major decisions in the company, whether administrative or artistic, are made by the whole group’s consensus. Smaller decisions and functions are all managed in committees, so every detail of the company’s functioning requires intense collaboration. This democratic process also makes its way into the artistic process itself. The company is currently working on a new show called Other Orbits, set to premiere in July 2023, in which a group of aliens try to make complex decisions using some of the same methods that Applied Mechanics uses. Using a playful sci-fi lens, the group is literally putting their process onstage. Collaboration is both the form and the content — collaboration among characters, and between the performers and the audience. As the company approaches its fourteenth anniversary, they are excited to keep breaking the mold and making strange and marvelous things together. They can’t wait to invite audiences into the next fantastic world they dream up, to become collaborators on the imaginative journey.
Applied Mechanics community partnerships have included:
(WCRP) Women's Community Revitalization Project
(PCAC) Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities
First Person Arts
Christ Church Neighborhood House
Applied Mechanics is a 2022-23 Theatre Philadelphia MAP resident company!
Learn More: https://www.appliedmechanics.us/