On the Record: Rebecca Wright on Applied Mechanics’ Latest Performance
Philadelphia’s Applied Mechanics established itself as a Fringe Festival favorite with half a dozen shows between It’s Hard Times at the Camera Blanca in 2009 and Feed in 2016. The company will be absent from the Festival this September, but the cast of its latest offering, This Is On Record, draws heavily from 2018 Festival stars: Annie Wilson will feature in Meg Foley’s The undergird, Thomas Choinacky is part of Simpatico Theatre’s 4Solo show, and contributing writer Mary Tuomanen will appear in the Bearded Ladies’ Do You Want A Cookie?
This Is On Record displays Applied Mechanics’ signature immersive style, transforming 3,800-square-foot Glass Factory performance space in Brewerytown to tell six intersecting stories simultaneously. The show investigates the construction of cultural narratives through the lives of six different people as their paths intersect across time. FringeArts spoke to company member Rebecca Wright about the play, which opens tonight and runs through July 1.
FringeArts: How does the format of the show contribute to its meaning and to the audience’s experience of watching the performance?
Rebecca Wright: This is a piece about the construction of cultural narratives and the various biases and circumstances that shape both the stories we tell and those we inherit. The parallel narrative immersive structure—where many stories are unfolding simultaneously and the audience is free to watch who and how they want—highlights how subjective storymaking is, as well as the question of how much we can and can’t control about what we see and inherit. Multiplicity is also really key here: there is not, in fact, ever one story—there are always multiple perspectives—and the structure of our work reflects this quite literally.
FringeArts: What prompted the creation of this show?
Rebecca Wright: When we first started talking about this show three years ago, we had no idea how pertinent it would be now. Initially, we were curious about historical resonance and the juxtaposition of different time periods in our immersive style, and we wanted to explore the lives and modes of documenter characters who were trying to capture the world around them.
FringeArts: Why do you think now is the right moment to present this work?
Rebecca Wright: Now, in this era of fake news and alternative facts, our desire to uncover radical narratives and shine a light on the forces that shape the stories we hear is incredibly intense and unbelievably timely. As a company, we have a longstanding interest in multiple intersecting narratives and in making art that challenges the status quo and brings other and radical visions of the world to light; now, more than ever, as political discourse disintegrates around us and our government flagrantly violates human rights and lies to us about it on the daily, these commitments feel vital, feel like the only possible fuel for making art.
FringeArts: How does this show fit into the larger context of Applied Mechanics’ body of work?
Rebecca Wright: This piece represents the third part in a trilogy of pieces exploring multiple coexistent time periods. The first was a large-cast piece called Rough Draft, juxtaposing three 20th century American protests (Bread and Roses Strike of 1912, Detroit Uprising of 1967, and the WTO protests of 1999), which we made with University of the Arts students in 2015; the second was the intimate food play Feed, in which a cast of three served dinner to an audience of 40 as their stories unfolded in three different eras; and This Is On Record is the third. In a way, those other two pieces served as research for this final installment of the trilogy. It’s a really amazing feeling for this long-term project to culminate with this piece. Two of the guest performers in the piece also performed previous parts of the trilogy (Alison Ormsby in Rough Draft and Brett Robinson in Feed) and this marks the 11th original work Applied Mechanics has created since our start in 2009. Every piece has been its own wild and radical experiment. We’re so excited to share this one with people in the coming weeks.
FringeArts: How does it depart from previous Applied Mechanics work?
Rebecca Wright: In addition to fitting within our parallel narrative immersive oeuvre and continuing our mission of making other possible worlds visible through art, This Is On Record represents a major experiment for us in its use of multimedia tech. We have never made such a tech-heavy show before, never incorporated projections, never had such a highly articulated sound design so deeply intertwined with the fundamental storytelling of the piece. We are incredibly fortunate to have had company member Maria Shaplin on projections design and Liz Atkinson on sound design: they are both master storytellers and highly attuned dramaturgical designers, and their work on this piece is phenomenal.
—Christopher Munden & Alyssa Kerper
What: This Is On Record
When: June 20 – July 1, 2018
Where: The Glass Factory, 1517 North Bailey Street
Cost: Sliding scale ticket prices $15 – $50
Performed by Annie Wilson, Brett Robinson, Daniel Park, Anita Holland, Thomas Choinacky, and Alison Ormbsy