By Maria Shaplin

On Sunday evening lots of lovely folks gathered at Christ Church Neighborhood House for the Spring 2017 Community Dinner. It was a lovely affair. We ate Peanut Stew, Savory Spinach Pastry and Lemon Cake. The large windows of the Great Hall were wide open, allowing the gorgeous weather to pour in. Many of Mary’s fellow actors from the cast of Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Arden came on their break from a two show day. Some of our HPI friends, and former UArts Students were there. We also had some super lovely Temple Students in the mix. Special shout out to Liz Green for donating her can to us for the day- we needed it to help transport the largest pot of stew that has ever been created in the history of humanity. As always, our administrator Mike Osinski held it down and made sure all the details were perfect. More shout outs to Izzy Sazak, Bayla Rubin, Thomas Choinacky, Emily Schuman, Maura Kraus, Anita Holland and Kristen Bailey for doing so much to help prep, run, and clean up from the event. The biggest love goes to Chef Becky Wright for doing all the cray cray meal planning and directing all the cooking. THANKS APPLIED MECHANICS FAMILY.

By Thomas Choinacky

Between Applied Mechanics’ residency weeks at UMS (University Musical Society) in Ann Arbor, I wandered over to Detroit for a few days to get to know that town a little better and then flew down to Austin, Texas to work on a collaboration with my sister, Lisa Choinacky.


I was wonderfully hosted by friends Sherrine Azab and Jake Hooker also known by their theater company A Host of People. They have used their entire house as a performance space for their piece The Modern Woman which catalogued one hundred years of women artists within the walls of their house: kitchen to bedroom. This took me back to Applied Mechanics’ Ses Voyages Sauvages, where we used ever nook and cranny of Becky’s West Philly apartment to produce a different biome in each room of her place. For A Hose of People the third floor of their house is also used in an ongoing way as both a rehearsal and performance space. I was delighted to meet a handful of their collaborators as they held the first rehearsal for their upcoming project while I was visiting.

It is interesting to see the similarities between Detroit and Philadelphia. Both industry towns which experienced big population declines after the 1950s. Sherrine and Jake drove me around the city sharing tidbits about the city and the arts community. Unlike Philly, Detroit is quite a vast and spread out city. Build with the guise of the power and future of cars it is difficult to get around the sprawling city. You really need a car to get around. But the arts are a sustaining feature throughout the neighborhoods I visited.

Exciting stops I had included the Heidelberg Project, the Arab American National Museum, and having Yemeni food for the first time in my life.

A last hurrah included an event at One Mile (a gorgeous warehouse space) which Ingrid LaFleur, an artist and arts advocate announced her candidacy for mayor. Even as a visitor to their community, it is inspiring to see a mayoral candidate use the arts as her platform to unite a community (!!!). It excites me about the future in this dark, capitalistic time.


Then I was then off to Austin. My sister Lisa Choinacky, a visual artist, and I are collaborating for the first time on an exhibition that will be at Terminal 136 in San Antonio. We are mashing up our two practices to build something new. With attention to my interest in architecture and mapping to Lisa’s process of symmetry and line we have found an intersection in thinking about how both of our practices require self-reflection. For us both, at this current moment where we can’t but help but talk about the political state we are in, we started thinking about how this installation can provide comfort and care. We want the gallery to be someplace else, a space that is inclusive, welcoming, and recharge ourselves and its visitors. I like that in our process we have been calling it “gallery not gallery”. We want the environment to be beyond the white cube.

We are thinking about labyrinths, the history of walls, and how to guide attention. As research I walked several labyrinths in both Austin and San Antonio. These spaces instigated reflection on the recent marches and walks I have made in the past month and year. There truly is something special in the winding journey that a labyrinth provides. In other meanderings, in an ordinary walk around San Antonio, I discovered how hard it is to find a cup of coffee in that town (I’ll tell you it’s not easy), but was I was happily distracted by the beautiful Riverwalk their downtown has which winds its way below street level. Outside of working on and painting the installation, my trip was highlighted by attending the opening of Liss LaFleur’s new show Greener Pastures at Women and Their Work gallery. The exhibition focuses on queerness within the cowgirl narrative. Liss is both a performance and media artist and it was exciting to see how she uses and presents performance in a visual art gallery. Using photos and video as documentation, she also showcased ephemera (peeshooters, spurs, horse blinders made for humans) that were used within her performances and happenings. Such an interesting intersection of materials. Enjoy some of the photos from my travels!

By Maria Shaplin

A few weeks ago, Applied Mechanics completed our research residency at the University of Michigan. It was a very productive week of interviews, workshops, pitch-meetings, and laughs. Check out the pics and vid below:













By Maria Shaplin

A few weeks ago Applied Mechanics visited Christ Church Neighborhood House with our historical feminist costumes in hand, to entertain captivated participants at The Memory Café.  A worldwide, loosely affiliated network of programs which facilitates gatherings of Alzheimers and dementia patients, The Memory Cafe provides a space for individuals and their caretakers to socialize, relax, flex their memory skills and have fun. A little bit about the history of the Memory Café:

“With roots in the Netherlands, Dr. Bere Miesen, a Dutch psychiatrist introduced the Memory Cafe concept in 1997 as a way to break through the stigma associated with various forms of Dementia.

The concept spread throughout Europe, to Ireland and England, Australia and eventually to the United States. As the Memory Cafe concept evolved here, it grew into a very open culture, including more than just those living with various forms of Dementia.

Many programs have been created in recent years for individuals suffering from all kinds of cognitive impairment. While Alzheimer’s is the most common, individuals with all forms of Dementia, along with those surviving a stroke or traumatic brain injury, can benefit from the safe, welcoming and mentally stimulating environments of Memory Cafes. There really is something for everyone.”  –Memory Cafe Directory Website

Mary, Izzy and Emily donned their historical-feminist-scientist-victorian garb for the first time since the Women’s Way Gala in 2015. Marie Curie, Ida B. Wells and Suzan B. Anthony floated into the Great Hall on their hoop skirts to many “oooohs and aaaahs”. They busted out their parlor games and spent an hour hopping from table to table, playing and chatting.  Then they dusted off their synchronized swimming routine for the “Feminist All Swim”. The performance was well-received and there were lots of questions for the women in the Q+A. All in all, the Memory Café was a lovely event with a great mission. Special thanks to Abigail Guay at CCNH for bringing us on board for this awesome event.

Last month, Applied Mechanics travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan to continue our research residency at U of M. Our task was to uncover some of the hidden histories of the University of Michigan; the first step towards the development of a performance piece in honor of its upcoming Bicentennial. We had an awesome week. Our hosts, UMS (University Musical Society), gave us unfettered access to the archives, students, and vast spaces around campus. We guest-taught a class called “Engaging Performance”, audited a class called “Silences of the University of Michigan”, led workshops, spent hours upon hours in the Labadie radical ephemera archive, and interviewed students about their lives on campus. It was a full, inspiring week. And trips to Zingermans and Treasure Mart didn’t hurt. Here are some photos from our adventures:

FEED @ Washington College

February 13, 2017

By Maria Shaplin and Mary Tuomanen

On a chilly Sunday Night in late February, Applied Mechanics arrived at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland for a lovely weeklong residency to work on FEED. Our engagement included two performances, a guest teaching spot and a workshop, all of which were well attended by the hungry and inquisitive theater students. Michele Volansky, the department chair (Dramaturg extraordinaire and Playpenn Co-founder), was the consummate host. She leads a crack team of professors and practitioners, and overseers the student’s exposure to a broad range of plays and performance styles. This was many of the student’s first exposure to immersive theater. They really dug it.

A dramaturgy class created a sculpture about hoarding and #alternativefacts: a throne covered in trash, with two competing soundtracks of grotesque circus music.

A devised theatre class created three different cultures with their own constitutions: one dedicated to helpfulness, one dedicated to naps, and one that spoke only in Michael Jackson lyrics. The different cultures met each other and influenced each other, transforming their value systems and their languages as they learned from one another. Some countries were more porous than others, and some anti-assimilationist characters where left alone, speaking an outdated form of their language that was not longer spoken by anyone else.

Our last workshop brought us students from many disciplines, but especially from the sciences! It was very thrilling to have these new perspectives in the room as we used theatricality to manifest both the invisible and the impossible: systems of oppression, biological systems, and rewriting the rules of physics and fate to create moments of personal victory and power. We were reminded of how rich these workshops can be when not all the participants come from a performance background.

Michele also gave us the grand tour of her home: a modest Georgian mansion built in 1769 which has been restored to its original paint colors and furnished with super awesome period décor. It was gorgeous. We spent the week installing and rehearsing FEED, cooking delicious meals, dreaming up future projects and enjoying our short time away from Philly.


By Maria Shaplin

Chapter 1: The Abridged Herstory of a 36 Year Old White Liberal from Vermont Who Once Upon A Time Fancied Herself a Radical (OR, What Brought me to the Women’s March)

I was raised with a daily immersion in American politics. Angry letters to the editor being frantically typed by my stay at home dad. Morning car trips to school with Rush Limbaugh. Politics at the family dinner table at 5pm. The evening news blasting from the boob tube at 6pm. Punks. Riot Girls. DIY. Distrust of power, distrust of leaders. CSPAN when there are votes, vetoes, press conferences. CNN when there are wars, bombings, riots, trials, shootings. South Africa, Iran, The Gulf War, The Iraq War, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Syria, LA, Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Snipers, Schools, Clubs, terrorists, violence, violence. Far away, but in my living room. Then the Internet. College: Globalization, The World Trade Organization, The World Bank, IMF, debt, slavery. More slavery in the world now than ever before. Protests. Organizing, violence, vandalism. Tear-gassed and shot with a rubber bullet in Quebec City. New-found fear, burnout, turning inward, getting back to art, refuge in theater. Feminism re-born out of the ashes of previous waves. Black Lives Matter. White terror and retribution creeping, expanding, engulfing.

Chapter 2: TRUMP (AKA The shittiest mic drop in American History)

LIGHTNING STRIKE. The largest wet fart noise you’ve ever heard  x 1,000,000,000. End chapter.

Chapter 3: The Next 4 Years of Our Lives.

Clearly this chapter is already in progress. I  started writing it the day after the election, slowly… These bones are a little creakier and less spongy. There is a little fear and trembling, settled in over the years from the catcalls, ass-grabs, the advancements in riot gear. The beefing up of private security forces, the stranglehold of capitalism. THE STRANGLEHOLD OF CAPITALISM WHICH FILLS ME WITH INDIGNATION AND RED HOT FURY.  More confidence, self-knowledge. The hands and mind are strong. Busy, sharp, productive. The March. A March. More to come.

By Rebecca Wright

Just before the holidays, Applied Mechanics hosted another awesome Winter Warm-Up Party. This one had a Solstice spin, and featured a guest performance by Crisco Thunder, guest bartending by Applied Mechanics Superfan Brian Crowley-Koch, and superfly guest hostess Lee Minora. Brett Robinson won the Warmest Award and Meg Walsh walked away from the auction with the legendary Mechanician-prepared Dinner Party grand prize. All of our amazing guest aerobics instructors made us sweat, among them rabbinical student Jessica Rosenberg, who led us in a special double-header aerobics routine specifically geared towards warming up for the coming revolution. We’re living in some cold, dark days, but this party left us hot, lit,and ready to work.

By Mary Tuomanen


Last month, we had the privilege of teaching a workshop in Productive Failure at Turner Broadcasting.

Turner is known for some great things (Among them, those bastions of excellence, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.) We knew we were going to encounter some creative types. The workshop was part of an initiative called Make You Matter, in which the company brings together employees from all departments and all sub-networks of Turner Broadcasting.

Together, in a Thunder-dome-esque trial of wits and wills, we forced them to FAIL.
We made them articulate a list of Impossible Tasks.
Then we said said, “Accomplish these.”
Once they had tried that, we did a second round, making each Impossible Task MORE impossible.

The result was some amazing warmth, collaboration, trust, humor, and willingness to push through uncomfortable moments to create group solutions to enormous problems. We worked at cultivating a joy in failure, one that allowed new solutions to present themselves and encouraged the opposite of the normal Pavlovian despair we feel when facing difficulty. The workshop participants were generous, witty people who threw themselves into such Impossible Tasks as 1) licking their elbows 2) eliminating hatred 3) creating 100% voter turnout and 4) teleporting snacks.

Here is a favorite quote from our discussion afterwards:

I think about traditional brainstorming, I think we all know how to do that. And I wonder if we can brainstorm in a different way, to say, let’s think of the most impossible things first. Not just what’s in the realm of possibility… even if people think it’s crazy, to say, ‘let’s give it a week. Play it out, see if it’s possible to make what seems impossible reality.’ And you might find you get some richer conversations.

We felt extremely encouraged by the willingness, creativity and astute self-critique responses of the Turner Broadcasting folks. Our delightful liaison, Amy, toured us around the campus and we were intrigued by the way the company made efforts to create a nurturing environment for its workers — a feeling of collectivity and pride in their work. And of course, we could not resist taking a peek at the Cartoon Network floor, where Tommy made some pretty wild shots at penguin mini-golf.

We left feeling that we had learned a great deal from the workshop participants. Hotlanta, you fail so good!

by Ellen Chenoweth

Originally published in thINKing DANCE on December 7th, 2016

What might a choreographer learn from training with an oral historian? Or a dramaturg from a sculptor? What about a group of devised-theater makers from a fiction writer or a digital storyteller? Learning from other fields, in dynamic exchange, seems to be a hallmark of Philadelphia makers. Adrienne Mackey has been leading fascinating experiments called Cross Pollinations, well-documented on the Swim Pony blog. Devised-theater makers Applied Mechanics invited technologist Jorge Just and writer Diane Cook into their research process one weekend earlier this fall. Supported by a grant from the Network of Ensemble Theaters, this research lays the groundwork for a 2018 premiere focused on documenters, people who tell stories about the past.

img_1070Applied Mechanics is a quintessentially Philadelphia theater ensemble in other ways as well. Their group of collaborators, several of whom have been making work together since 2009, have built trust and rapport over the course of years, a long-term investment in each other. Through their extensive research process, group members do deep dives into relevant source material. There’s an interest in innovation, in getting away from theatrical business as usual. And while they create and tour immersive theatrical works in which audience members are free to choose their own paths through an elaborate designed environment, they also host regular community dinners, and even aerobics parties.

Diane is a fiction writer and a long-time friend of Applied Mechanics’ director Becky Wright. Jorge is a media producer, currently working as an editor with the podcast Heavyweight. Sitting in on the session with Jorge, I observed several areas of overlapping interest:

–They share a concern with empathy. Jorge previously worked for Detour, which creates immersive audio tours for urban neighborhoods. Jorge’s tours were about putting a user into the experience of someone else.

–Both sides are playing with and paying attention to how bodies want to move through space and experimenting with ways of directing the attention of those bodies. Applied Mechanics creates environments for people to explore, but still has structures and arcs in place to direct audience paths. Detour creates a more focused experience for audience members, but also plays with layering time and space.

–Both share a common thread of creating safe and inclusive spaces for both the audience and the performers. Discussing “safety versus fun,” Jorge pointed out that safety can be boring: “You want the world to be both chaotic and predictable.” He talked about Detour’s attempts to tie visual cues into the user’s audio narrative, to relieve anxiety and help them know that they’re on the right track. Becky described the work of Applied Mechanics as “setting up circumstances for delight and discovery.”

–A couple of workshop participants noted that performance and theater people are often interested in the fleshy and the analog, rather than the digital. Applied Mechanics brought Jorge in to work with them in part to challenge this preference, but also because they were intrigued by how podcast listeners, or walking tour users, or fiction readers, might share qualities with theater audiences.

As the group continues their research, company member Thomas Choinacky explains one of his insights from the weekend: “There is a choreography to Detour which balances the predictability of the world, even though it may seem unpredictable to an audience. This also exists in our work, and I’m interested in how we can create new choreographies of our audiences by adding technology or additional ways of mapping our performances.” Becky picked up on a similar element, highlighting the impact of “the conversation about directing the audience’s eye and attention, and what you can and can’t control in their surroundings. I’ll be tuning into how we direct and moderate the audience’s experiences in a different way following that discussion.”

Radical History: Applied Mechanics at U of M

November 29, 2016

By Rebecca Wright A few weeks ago, Jess and I spent five days in Ann Arbor, MI, the first of three visits Applied Mechanics will make this academic year as part of a research residency with UMS (the University Musical Society, the presenters attached to the University of Michigan.) Our prompt for this residency is […]

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Applied Mechanics “Creating Immersive Worlds” Workshop

November 23, 2016

AWESOME EMERGING ARTISTS ALERT! This November, Applied Mechanics had our first self-organized public workshop. It occurred to us that this type of knowledge-share might be interesting to folks in the community, and we might come into contact with some great new art-brains. Wow, did we ever. For two days, we had the honor of sharing the […]

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Donuts: The Currency of Joy

September 5, 2016

By Terry Mittelman Donuts mean a lot to me. I eat donuts for breakfast probably fives times a week, selling donuts is my main source of income, my love of donuts is by far my best and most attractive quality on my tinder profile, and I have made some of my best friends because of […]

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Summer Field Trip to Camden Printworks!

August 18, 2016

By Maria Shaplin Applied Mechanics has lots of amazing friends in the Philadelphia area. Few are quite AS AMAZING as our dear friend Adam Woods, the proprietor of Camden Printworks right across the Walt Whitman bridge in Camden, NJ. His  business employs a crack team of local superstars, and provides high quality screen printing jobs for clients all […]

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SEEDS & FEED: Come See Us at a Pop-up Performance in the Coming Weeks.

August 8, 2016

Over the next few weeks, lucky attendees of various farmers markets around Philadelphia will get to see a sneak peak of the new Applied Mechanics show, FEED. Amid the tents of fresh produce and devotees of organic dirt, revelers from the world of FEED will assemble and perform The Hygge, a traditional dance from our newly […]

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