This week, Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot came to Philadelphia. We were totally starstruck.

Applied Mechanics was so inspired by the actions of Nadya and her comrades in 2012 that we made a whole show inspired by them, called We Are Bandits. This show was about an imaginary band. We took our name from the insulting nickname the right wing in Russia gave Pussy Riot: “this bunch of BANDITS.” We rehearsed this show while Nadya, Masha Alyokhina and Kayta Samutsevich were arrested and put on trial for their punk rock protest that asked the Virgin Mary to “kick Putin out”. They were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and their moving statements in court became famous throughout the world, calling for environmental justice, free democratic process, separation of church and state and an end to the corruption of Putin’s government. Nadya and Masha were not given amnesty until December 2013, having spent over a year in two different Siberian prisons. For years after their release, we have followed their actions as they have continued to fight for their beliefs, writing songs, making speeches, and bravely putting their bodies on the line again during the Socchi Olympics, when they were assaulted once more before the eyes of the world. Meanwhile, we kept playing in our “imaginary” band The Bandits, writing songs that expressed our desire for a more just world. Jen Cleary of First Person Arts shocked me this year by calling me out of the blue and saying, “How’d the Bandits like to open for Nadya?” This is really a complete dream come true, as well as a bittersweet moment; we find ourselves with an American presidential administration that is, in its own way, as extreme as Putin’s. Now more than ever, we have a need for “bandits” like Nadya.

Our first glimpse of her was during our soundcheck, when she emerged from the rectory (yes, we performed in a church, a callback to Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer” of 2012) videoing us with her iPhone, grinning wildly like a fan-girl. When our song ended, she yelled, “MORE!” She danced to the rest of soundcheck, and asked if she could take a picture with us. She sang us a little song as a trade for the music we’d played for her: “Bad apples/Are good for something/When they’re six feet underground…” with a sort of freestyle postlude: “Populism, lock it up. Corruption, lock it up. Enough.”The songs we had written were group authored — no lyrics, no melody, no patter between songs had been the work of only one person. It felt good to be loving each other this way, to bring each other’s beliefs to life and celebrate the ideals of collectivity and cooperation which, let’s face it, are the only ideas that will get us through the coming crisis of end-stage capitalism and climate change. Listening to Nadya talk about the risks that she and her friends had taken together FOR and BECAUSE OF each other reinforced the importance of these values for me.

Nadya’s talk took us on a stroll through her brain — not just an anecdotal lecture on “What Brought Me Here” but rather, a little tour of her heroes, her processes, her ways of believing and thinking. It felt like the way a very serious child will give you a tour of their toy chest. Now just imagine the child is your age and has a degree in philosophy. It felt like the sort of casual irreverence that we use with each other; in short, she felt like one of us. She told stories, as well: a story of casting a skull-and-crossbones over the Russian White House, of preparing for actions with her baby in a sling, of hiding exploding confetti cannons in her pants, of learning how to roll under a car to avoid the cops in under 3 seconds, of welding the doors of a right-wing oligarch’s restaurant shut while your friends are in the restaurant trying to hide the sound of welding by dancing around in Santa costumes, singing dumb show tunes at the top of their lungs. It all felt inspirational and, more importantly, POSSIBLE. We were an attentive audience of bandits — strange theatrical jerks who have no shame and lots of practice in collaboration and a taste for lunacy — and we were all shown new possibilities of how to make positive mischief in the world.

There was also an unexpected feeling of gratitude. There we were, all together, making a punk rock concert in a church, doing the very thing for which Nadya had spent over a year in prison. Despite all that is wrong with the United States, this is still possible. Leaving that church, 1,000 more things felt possible.

Why? Because we are Bandits.

Other Highlights:

  • When, in the talk, she said she felt guilty sometimes about how much attention Pussy Riot had gotten because there are so many political prisoners.  This perspective and understanding bespeaking a true radical spirit.
  • When she said, from the stage, that maybe we’ll all play together someday.
  • Watching the crowd dance in the front, and gleefully tear up the fake money.
  • Watching Maria watch the Bandits from the pew in front of me, and turn around in the middle of a song and, beaming, mouth “it’s so good!”
  • Also, I think we’re all excited to read Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless now.

By Mary Tuomanen

How do we make political theatre for this charged moment in history?

How can art manifest our desires for a more just society?

How can we get an audience to imagine a better world?

These are some questions that Applied Mechanics has been wrestling with for years. Little by little, we started to develop tools and practices, as we struggled to avoid the common pitfalls of making political theater:  the didactic propaganda play, the play that congratulates the audience for ideas they already have, or the purely issue-driven play that sees political action as a zero-sum game with yes or no answers. Instead, our shows encourage the audience look at structures — systems of power and oppression, structures of resistance, ecosystems of belief that allow humans to enter into cooperation together. How does the form of a society tell you about its values? How can we imagine whole new ways of being?

This past weekend, Applied Mechanics had the pleasure of leading a workshop for artists interested in this sort of evocative political theatre-making. The amazing group of participants were varied and age and background — some seasoned performers, some recent art school grads, some visual artists, some directors/playwrights — all preoccupied with similar questions of how to manifest their desire for a better world through their art. Many voiced their trepidation at being in such a workshop. Some brave souls had signed up specifically because they felt afraid.

From the first hours of the first day, the group plunged headlong into collaboration prompts. They were not easy ones either: Make an invisible thing visible. Make a political action. Go find something that transforms behavior. Turn that interdiction into an invitation. Make a model of a world that reflects your values. Combine your model with someone else’s. Make a collective utopia.

The results were more beautiful than we could have imagined.

There were private spaces of joy and rage that invited us to make noise, throw objects, cry out.

We saw performers code-switching, putting on and taking off (metaphorical) masks. We saw enthusiasm and trust. We saw serious investigation and the difficulty of making a society that fits everyone’s needs.

We saw the painfully slow process of huge change untaken by small steps, as represented by feeding tiny scraps of paper to a fan. Whenever the performer tore off too big of a piece of paper, she had to backtrack. “Whoops. Tried to do too much.” The pain of this truth was felt by many of us!

We saw the holiness of breaking bread together.

We saw echoes of trauma. We saw disparate groups moving together as slowly as tectonic plates, waiting for the earthquake.

We saw the importance of consent in establishing a welcome, or touch between people.

We puzzled over ways to give space to others, to create a sense of invitation, and to make an inclusive, low-pressure offer to an audience.

We examined ourselves, and our own tendencies and behaviors, making a map between the way we act and the way we want to be.

We honored some of our heroes, be they our biological foremothers or spiritual foremothers.

We imagined life as we wanted it to be, and brought it into the room.

By the end of this workshop, the group felt like an ensemble. We had created so many rituals of togetherness that it was hard to leave that room without carrying a bit of each person with us. We can’t wait to see more of what these folks make, and thank them all for the radical worlds they birthed from their imaginations this weekend!


Fall Theater Round Up

October 17, 2017

Applied Mechanics, as always, is busy making and seeing art.  The fall is full of wonders, and here are some of our projects, thoughts, and picks. 

What’s the last show you worked on?

Maria: I just opened Cabaret at the Arden. Its one of the larger designs I’ve done in my career, and I’m pretty proud of it!  I also just opened Buyer & Cellar with 1812 Theater Company. Its a one-man show starring the lovely Dito, directed by the lovely Dan O’Neil. Costumed by the lovely Jill Keys.

Thomas: Symmetry Studies– a visual art exhibition at Metropolitan Bakery. The paintings were research from my solo A User’s Manual I completed earlier this year.

Sam: I directed and produced an original work, Strange Tenants, in the Fringe Festival with my artistic platform, Sam Tower + Ensemble. I had been workshopping this project in various forms for almost two years. It shape shifted many times, and it taught me more than I could have ever imagined. 

Mary: I just worked on Alchemist with Chris Davis in the Fringe Festival

Becky: I directed Michael Kiley’s Close Music for Bodies in the Fringe. It was an hour-long immersive song with all original music and lyrics that came from the ensemble’s personal stories.  A beautiful experience. 

What are you working on right now?

Maria: I’m wrapping up a three year show development process called War of the Worlds: Philly. It’s a hybrid theater/game experience based on the original radio play by Orson Wells. It’s a collaboration between Drexel Entrepreneurial Game Studio and Swim Pony Performing Arts.  

Thomas: My current studio practice is staring at public walls right now. My next project How to Read the Wall is a new, conceptual step forward from my improvisational movement score I created.

Sam: I am coordinating Showcase 2018, presented by International Performing Arts for Youth. This annual conference/festival for excellence in performance for young audiences will now officially take place in Philly every January.

Mary: I am about to open Destiny Estimate by MJ Kaufman! Very excited about that show.

Becky: I’m in rehearsal for The Gap by Emma Goidel at Azuka.  It’s fun to work on a show about a complex sister relationship, and with such a crackerjack team of Philly artists. 

What’s your favorite thing you saw in the Fringe Festival or generally in the past couple of months?

Maria: I have been in traveling and in tech for all of Fringe, so all I’ve got is a tv show: Call The Midwife. I’m OBSESSED. I love it.

Thomas: STAGE by a canary torsi. An awesome conceptual show that was at Abrons in NYC. Alexandra Tatarsky’s Americana Psychobabble was a brilliant and risky clown show in the Fringe. And Speech/Acts, the current show at the ICA. It wonderful showcases how visual artists use poetry as inspiration.

Sam: I really enjoyed the experience of seeing A Love Supreme in the Fringe Festival. The dance is an intricate improv score to the full Coltrane album. I can see why it has been touring for 10 years.

Mary: I was just in Edinburgh where I got to see Philadelphia’s own Lee Minora perform her amazing solo show, Cheeks! Feminist provocateur performance to the max!

Becky: I loved Alex Tatarsky’s American Psychobabble so much.

What’s one of the things you’re most excited about seeing in the coming couple of months?

Maria: I’m looking forward to seeing Destiny Estimate by MJ Kaufman! Woot! I’m also planning a trip to Diggerland, a construction vehicle themed park in NJ. Also I’m excited to see my sister get married this weekend! And Im excited for the Barrymore’s cause so many of my friends are nominated.

Thomas: The New Museum’s Trigger: Gender as a Tool.

Sam: Destiny Estimate (MJ Kaufman) and Hold Still While I Figure This Out (Subcircle)

Mary: Excited to see Blood Wedding at the Wilma; I think it will be amazing

Becky: The thing I’m most excited to see this season is Plant Me Here’s I’m Not Myself Today, an adaptation of Three Sisters.  But that’s not until the spring.  Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to all the shows listed above me on the survey!

Coming Up:

By Mary Tuomanen

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

This summer, Applied Mechanics received the honor of a residency at the prestigious Millay Colony, an artist’s retreat in the Berkshire Mountains on the former estate of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. The place is singularly wild, gorgeous, overrun with flowers. The artists’ colony is carefully laid out with secluded studios that are perfectly designed for focused writing, composing and painting, with names of alumni lovingly carved in the door frames (Leonard Cohen was hard to miss). “Watch out for the bears,” warned our hosts. “You might hear coyotes.” We felt — correctly — that we were extremely lucky to be there.

We knew that Millay herself (1892 – 1950) lived a terrific bohemian life out there in the mountains. She embodied the sort of avant-garde you might expect from a woman who went by the name Vincent: public skinny dipping before that was a thing, being polyamorous before that was a thing, throwing parties, indulging in substances, burning the candle at both ends and generally being a genius of her time.


We were warned by our hosts, when we requested a tour of Millay’s household, that the tour for the general public tended to skirt certain aspects of Millay’s life (bisexuality, addiction, etc). Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit the Special Tour for Colonists. We decided to make do with the heavily-edited version.  This experience ended up being very useful for us, since we had come to the colony to begin development on our new show — an examination of documentation and cultural narrative, set to premiere Spring 2018. Our research into the Stories That Get Told are constantly revealing to us Stories That Are Not Told — the pieces of information that are edited out and accumulate to make their own Shadow Books behind the stories we know.


Millay’s biographer laments, in the introduction to 2001’s Savage Beauty, how strange and incomplete any biographical exercise is. She describes driving to the colony and experiencing the perversity of going through Vincent’s personal affairs, exhuming scraps of paper and trying to piece together something that might translate, somehow, into a picture of the complex human being that is no more. The distance

between the writer and subject becomes an unavoidable paradox — the closer you get, the more impossible the true translation seems. As Susan Sontag writes in On Photography, sometimes the very act of documentation feels like violence.


For us, nodding politely to our friendly guide as we moved through Vincent’s house, the sanitized tour was a confirmation of what we were already exploring — stories behind stories. Millay ‘s estate promised wonderful mysteries at every turn: a witches’ circle of stone columns, surreal gates to nowhere, a pile of gin bottles in the woods, a spring-fed open air pool next to an outdoor wet bar. The bar, it should be noted, has a bullet hole in the front of it.

We left the colony with our own accumulation of artifacts:

poems, pictures, podcasts, sound memos, videos and visual art that was meant to document our time there. (One is included here, a podcast/slideshow made of a ritual at Millay’s grave.) We translated articles into essays, essays into maps, maps into guided tours, guided tours into dances, dances into poems and in general, experience into documentation. These are as incomplete as any tour, biography, or even recording could ever be. As we continue to develop our new show, we will learn to love sitting in that amazing incompleteness.

At night, we played games of exquisite corpse and looked at the journals of former colonists. They were

replete with ghost stories. What was their experience? Did they find echoes of a woman named Vincent here? The second night, a pack of coyotes sent up a howl from the nearby woods, and we ran outside to listen. We had been warned.




By Rebecca Wright

Back in December, Applied Mechanics received an incredibly generous donation in memory of a fascinating and much-loved woman, Lois Nolan Alley. On Mother’s Day, we gathered for a celebratory thank you dinner with Lois’s daughter, Marta, and granddaughter, Applied Mechanics Associated Artist Maura Krause, to show our gratitude and learn a little more about Lois and her legacy. Here is some of what we learned:

Lois was a painter. She took it up later in life, after her kids had left the house. When she completed a painting, she always had a lot to say about what she would change were she to paint it again.

Lois was a great reader. She introduced Maura to many important authors, including Ursula Le Guin, and to the concept of reading to gain access to a writer’s imagination, to the inside of a mind, as well as for literary pleasure.

Lois was a world traveler. Originally from Kentucky, she had Southern manners, and was so funny and sweet that when she looked up at a Red Lobster waiter and said, in regards to her salad, “It’s slimy” he couldn’t even be affronted.

Lois was loyal. She granted everyone their dignity. She was perceptive and kind. She was a tomboy before that was really appreciated. Both Marta and Maura spoke of her as someone born in the wrong era, before the world knew how to recognize her gifts and grant broader opportunities to women.

Applied Mechanics is greatly honored to share in the legacy of this strong and lovely woman. We loved getting to celebrate her with Maura and Marta on Mother’s Day. We are grateful to have such friends in our corner.

A selection of paintings by Lois Nolan Alley:


By Maria Shaplin

Tonight, Peaceable Kingdom opens at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City. Written by Mary Tuomanen and produced by Orbiter 3, the show’s collaborators include 4 Mechanicians, including me- so I kinda had to write a blog post about it. Here follows an interview I did with Mary, Becky and Thomas. But first, some backstory about the show: Peaceable Kingdom is an imaginative re-telling of William Penn’s early real estate exploits and experiments in religious utopia here in Pennsylvania. It highlights the burgeoning yet strained relationship between those settlers and Chief Tamanend of the Lenape nation, who lived here in the Delaware Valley long before Penn arrived. In our play, the members Penn’s utopian experiment are imagined as the animals in this painting (shown here) by Edward Hicks, who was himself a Quaker, and painted 63 versions of this image throughout his life. The painting depicts animals, wild and domesticated, peacefully coexisting despite their predatory natures. The animals are living with intention, in peace. In the distance, we see Penn and Tamanend signing their famous peace treaty under the elms. But how long can this peace last? The show asks: how do we live freely and “do no harm” in a fucked up world where not everyone is capable or willing to live by the same rules or moral codes. In short, utopia is fucking hard. The characters in the play wrestle with their needs and desires, which are often at odds with living in a “state of grace”, or oneness with god.  There’s lots more to say but folks should just see it!


Maria: Mary, which came first, the idea for this play, or your personal involvement in Quakerism? For those of us who don’t know much about Quakerism, can you give us a quick run down?


Mary: I started writing the play before I attended meeting, but only got a few scenes in before it ground to a halt. I actually didn’t know that modern Quakers were contemplating these same questions that come up in the play: how to be a better ally, how to move forward with goodwill even when it’s possible that you might screw up, how to self-evaluate for questions of best practice as a moral being. Going to meeting was honestly a relief. Meeting for worship invokes coming together in silence. Individuals may stand to speak when they feel truly moved by the spirit. It was so comforting to be around folks who brought those questions to a space of silent contemplation. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone. After the first tentative 3 Scenes i had written, the following 20 scenes of Peaceable Kingdom tumbled out relatively quickly after a year of going to meeting.


Maria: For anyone that belongs to a collective organization, some of your characterizations of group dynamics will be totally familiar. Why’s it so hard for humans to make and sustain collectives? In the end though, what keeps you striving towards the goal of a ‘peaceable kingdom’- a social contract based on mutual love and respect?


Mary: I think anyone who has tried to keep a group together — a band of musicians, a political movement, a theater company, a school, a partnership, a family — knows that any community of humans can become its own small utopia. And it’s really hard to keep folks together over a long span of time. It requires flexibility and adaptability, since humans grow and change. Utopia, by its roots, means No Place. This reflects both the absurdity of the idea (a perfect world? Ridiculous!) and the fluidity of it; utopia is not located in space, but rather in time. It is located wherever we come together in good faith. Yes, utopia is an impossible idea, which doesn’t mean we should stop pursuing it. Yes, humans can be thoughtless, we screw up and we hurt each other — that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to cooperate better. We owe it to each other, and to ourselves, to dream up a more just world. We have one tiny life and so many possibilities for friendship within it. We shouldn’t have to put up with injustice, exploitation, hierarchy, bigotry and state violence. We can make tiny examples of that better world in these communities, these intentional families. That means owning your mistakes. I think Quakers are good at this.


Maria: Becky, this show features a number of your frequent collaborators including a bunch of Mechanicians- so there is a little bit of a collective vibe going on behind the scenes too. You seem like a perfect fit for the show aesthetically and philosophically. Can you describe your directing style for folks who don’t get to see your process?


Becky: I’m a very collaborative director. I’m always really interested in the people in the room, their impulses, and what they’re bringing to a process.  I want to build a piece with them and from them, rather than just using them to execute things I’ve already worked out in my head.  I always come in with starting points and first proposals, but I’m happiest when I’m working with folks who will take my first thought and take it to the next thought.  Always at the beginning of a process, I have big questions: there are things about the piece I don’t understand, and I’m happiest when the process is one of group exploration and discovery.


Maria: How does your directing style vibe with, or differ from the messages that the play give us?

Becky: I’m pretty driven by visions of egalitarian and non-hierarchical systems.  Which is not to say there aren’t separate jobs.  People get non-hierarchy all wrong: it doesn’t mean there’s no one in charge, only that the person in charge is not more important than the other people–in-charge-ness is just one [sometimes] necessary job, on par with lots of other necessary jobs.  As a director, I have responsibilities to the room, to guide and facilitate and name decisions and make things happen. But that job depends upon everyone else showing up and doing their job too.  This is way harder than just telling people what to do.  So I resonate with the utopian experiment in the play, and the subtextual fears that such work is ultimately impossible and unsustainable resonate with me as well.


Maria: I don’t think that the cast would mind me saying this, but they are a huge batch of totally unique and magnificent creatures. They are an eclectic group! Tell us about what its like to work with a group that has such a wide variety of styles, training, and energy.


Becky: My experience is always that if there are 12 people in the room, I’m going to have to figure out 12 different ways of saying the same thing.  Everyone’s brain is different, and in our line of work, everyone needs to be communicated with effectively in order to do their job.  When I work with a new collaborator, I often end up spending the first part of the process learning how to communicate with them.  This process has been really lovely in involving a mix of long-standing collaborators (Thomas, Mary, Maria) and brand new collaborators (Justin, Apollo, and several of the cast), as well as folks I haven’t worked with in a long time–like John Jarboe, who was an early member of Applied Mechanics, Chris Davis, who performed in the second iteration of Vainglorious, and the inimitable Cathy Simpson, who was one of the very first people to be kind and welcoming to me in Philadelphia way back the first time I moved here after college.  I think that when building a piece in this way that draws so heavily on the assembled collaborators, it’s really lovely and meaningful to have folks from lots of different backgrounds and trainings so that the temporary community they build together can have its own unique culture born of all their strengths and eccentricities.  This piece definitely has its own style, and that style grew from the work we’ve all done together as an ensemble.


Maria: Thomas, our readers should know that squirrels are your spirit animal. In addition to having a sizable squirrel trinket collection, you also have a fabulous squirrel tattoo. And in Peaceable Kingdom, you get to play one on stage! Do you feel an increased weight of responsibility to represent this animal for whom you have such intense kinship? Did you need to do any prep work for the role at all, or have you basically been studying for it for your whole life?


Thomas: In some ways it was easy for me to scurry into the role. With my love of squirrels, for years, I have paid close attention to the ways squirrels move and have been enamored by their personality. So the movement came somewhat naturally for me. It is truly thrilling to get to perform a creature that I have thought about for so long.

I would say my weight and responsibility in relation to the story is less in my intense relationship to squirrels and more in the relationship to being a Native species. Acknowledging how colonials stole this land from Native Americans, has made me think deeply about native peoples who lost their lives and also the species who died due to colonization. And also by me even saying “native peoples” how ridiculous of a statement that is as there were and are so many vibrant and different cultures that have been clumped into that category. It can be easy to invisiblize cultures if we don’t pay attention, think inclusively, and as a collective. So I find my responsibility in calling attention to those which gets invisiblized, and being a participant in sharing their story.


Maria: Additionally, are there any aspects of squirrels that Mary didn’t capture which you would like to give us as a sort of insider back-story? If you, Thomas, could jump into the play and give your character some advice to help him on his journey, what would you say?


Thomas: I think Mary has done an amazing job writing the story of these squirrels. She has written something really special because you see the characters reflected within other characters. These parallels between storylines help deepen each character’s narrative. I think the one thing I always think about at the beginning of the show is if my squirrel didn’t meet any of these characters could they have remained happily unaware in their own utopia? Advice for my squirrel: Self-care. In any relationship you have to take care of yourself. You can’t expect to get what you need from another being/animal.

Go see Peaceable Kingdom y’all. Its a coup-de-village.


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.

U of M Research Residency: Hidden Histories

March 6, 2017

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), […]

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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 […]

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The Women’s March /// Jan 21st, 2017

January 24, 2017

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. […]

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Winter WarmUp! Winter WarmUp!

January 9, 2017

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 […]

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Failing in Hotlanta: Applied Mechanics’ “Productive Failure” Workshop at Turner Broadcasting Network

January 2, 2017

By Mary Tuomanen FAILING IN HOTLANTA! 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 […]

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