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.

DETROIT

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.

AUSTIN AND SAN ANTONIO

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

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 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!

BLOG SHARE: “Circumstances for Delight and Discovery” An article from thINKing DANCE

December 13, 2016

by Ellen Chenoweth Originally published in thINKing DANCE on December 7th, 2016 http://www.thinkingdance.net/articles/2016/12/07//Circumstances-for-Delight-and-Discovery/ 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 […]

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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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