Posts Tagged ‘Applied Mechanics’

On the Record: Rebecca Wright on Applied Mechanics’ Latest Performance

Posted June 22nd, 2018

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.   

The cast of THIS IS ON RECORD: Alison Ormsby, Annie Wilson, Brett Robinson, Thomas Choinacky, Anita Holland and Daniel Park.

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.

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You Are What You Eat: FEED at the 2016 Fringe Festival

Posted September 16th, 2016
Above Photo: Brett Ashley Robinson and Mary Tuomanen in FEED  (photo by Tasha Doremus)



Brett Ashley Robinson in FEED (photo by Tasha Doremus)

It might not always be considered as such, but food is a profoundly historical, political topic. The way we eat deeply informs the way we interact with our community and planet, the way we pass down traditions and recorded history, and of course, our own quality of life. Presented with the challenge of making a piece of theater that revolves around food, there are few companies in Philadelphia as well equipped as Applied Mechanics to tackle the job. Since their premiere in 2009, they’ve done much to solidify their reputation as an innovative, masterful creator of immersive theater that is as much an intricately crafted story as a lesson in civic engagement.

Their newest work, FEED, premieres in the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and is a brilliant example of their ability to finely weave multiple narratives together to create an entire world for their audiences to explore. Set in the Independence Foundation Gallery for Visual Art at the Painted Bride, it takes its audience on a journey through the past, present, and future of a society that seems pretty similar to our own, from the point of view of 3 people living at different points on the same timeline, uniting in the gallery’s second level, where the audience and characters come together several times throughout the show to eat together.

The cast is sparse compared to some of Applied Mechanics other work, but what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in ability to connect with the audience in a way that tells not only the story of their characters, but the entire society that surrounds them. Mary Tuomanen plays KRS, a scientist grappling with homesickness and a personal loss while abroad at a new research job at a foreign university. Thomas Choinacky plays LEIF, a motherly figure who talks in a vernacular composed of gestures, sounds, and sensations. Brett Robinson plays BESTBY, a Messiah-like figure who is coming to terms with no longer being wanted in the community she is trying to serve. Audiences decide who to follow and for how long, making every single person’s experience of the show unique.

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Sam Tower

Posted September 8th, 2016

Sam Tower (photo by Arielle Salkowitz)

Name: Sam Tower

Type of Artist: Director, Creator, Producer

Company: Sam Tower + Ensemble

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Bailout!, Off-Color Theatre, 2009 – Actor
Precipice, 2010 – Director, Creator
All Places from Here, 2011 – Director, Creator
27, New Paradise Laboratories, 2012 – Assistant Director
The Adults, New Paradise Laboratories, 2014 – Assistant Director
901 Nowhere Street, Sam Tower + Ensemble, 2015 – Director, Producer

Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016FEED, Applied Mechanics – Marketing & PR

First Fringe I attended: My first Fringe Festival was in 2009, when I was attending Headlong Performance Institute, and we saw a show almost every day of the Festival. Since then, I’ve filled every free hour of my time during the Festival with as many shows as possible. That was also the year I became a life-long groupie of New Paradise Laboratories, who produced Fatebook in the old Live Arts warehouse on 5th street – oh, and the warehouse Fringe bar that year was so so so good!

The Adults - image by plate3.com

New Paradise Laboratorie’s The Adults (photo by plate3)

First Fringe I participated in: During the 2009 Festival, I was also performing in a ‘live action sitcom’ called Bailout! while attending school and seeing tons of shows. That Fringe was totally exhausting, exhilarating, and addicting! That year, I got to see MORE by Headlong Dance Theater and there was a moment when a dancer vacuums the rug while the radio plays on random – it destroyed me quietly and I still think about that moment to this day. I don’t think it will ever leave me.

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The first Fringe show I was involved in producing included an installation of fabric corridors, which we were required to uninstall for 4 days in the middle of the run if we wanted to use that space. So, naturally, we agreed, and built the fabric walls to be taken down and put back up rapidly. And during the break between shows, we shot a short companion film. Our team spent the whole summer in a basement, working through the night in a crawl space, building an overly-ambitious immersive set of found objects and trash-picked speakers. It was our very first self-produced project, and looking back, we didn’t seem to need sleep that summer (just cigarettes and beer!)

The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: In 2011, I co-produced a very large-scale show in an abandoned lot next door to the newly opened Frankford Hall. The production had a full light, sound and projection installation, and was performed outside on a loading dock with a meager fence surrounding it. We had hurricanes during tech, daily lugging of 80 metal folding chairs, a dressing room made from tarp and extra beams, no bathrooms or running water — but damn! That was bold, Fringy experimentation in its purest form!

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Rebecca Wright

Posted August 2nd, 2016
Rebecca Wright pic

Rebecca Wright (photo by Kate Raines)

Name: Rebecca Wright

Type of Artist: Director, Creator

Company: Applied Mechanics

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia, New Paradise Laboratories, 2004 – crew
Batch, New Paradise Laboratories, 2007 – crew
Inside Julia Child, with John Jarboe, 2009 – director/creator
It’s Hard Times at the Camera Blanca, Applied Mechanics, 2009 – director/creator
Portmanteau, Applied Mechanics,  2010 – director/creator
Overseers, Applied Mechanics, 2011 – director/creator
Some Other Mettle, Applied Mechanics, 2012 – director/creator
Black Market, Applied Mechanics, 2015 – director/creator

2016 Fringe show I’m participating inFEED with Applied Mechanics, as director and creator

First Fringe I attended: 2004 was my first Fringe in Philadelphia. Everything was a thrill! I remember seeing Thaddeus Phillips do his Tempest in an alleyway, and watching Brian Sanders’ JUNK over a chain link fence by the Festival bar.

17 overseers treehouse

Mary Tuomanen in Overseers (photo by Tasha Doremus)

First Fringe I participated in: I ran camera for New Paradise Laboratories’ Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia in 2004. I taped the show for live feed every night, and also had a few prep tasks that included hot-gluing a string to a glass bottle and emptying out a shop vac so that it could be set to reverse and blow rose petals out all over the space. I felt so cool. I got to watch that show maybe a dozen times and I loved it more with each viewing.

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: I produced two shows at once in 2009—Inside Julia Child with John Jarboe and It’s Hard Times at the Camera Blanca with Applied Mechanics. They were super different and both super memorable. John and I were living together at the time, and we had to make two tarte tatin for every show. I remember peeling and coring hundreds of apples together with this hand crank apple peeler/corer he got Williams Sonoma to lend us for the labor. John also performed in Camera Blanca, which Applied Mechanics produced at Murph’s Bar in Fishtown. They donated the space to us, but we didn’t realize until right before opening that they weren’t planning on closing down the bar during the show—rookie mistake on our part to not be clear on the agreement!—so every night was this wild mix of regulars and Fringe audiences, plus our actors who were playing down and out circus performers all over the bar.

som rad

(clockwise from front) Thomas Choinacky, Mary Tuomanen, Kristen Bailey, John Jarboe, and Jessica Hurley in Some Other Mettle (photo by Maria Shaplin)

The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: For Overseers in 2010, we rented the upstairs storeroom of a marble and tile business on Washington Ave. It hadn’t been used in years and was full of weird old stuff, and we had to (try to) sweep and mop all this 50-year-old tile dust out of there so that we could use the space. I remember just being covered in muck. And it was so hot in there that we had to eat our company meals outside—so many dinners sitting on a tarp in the parking lot! Inspired by the space, we built a play about a city suffering from drought. We ended up serving the audience cold beer and popsicles during the show, and giving them little spray bottles to keep themselves cool with.

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Talkin’ Lights With Maria Shaplin

Posted April 18th, 2013

 “I learned how to make the most out of twelve lights. It was the best possible lighting education.”

Where the hell . . . ? Maria Shaplin at work.

Where the hell . . . ? Maria Shaplin at work.

Philadelphia-based lighting designer Maria Shaplin has just finished a (second) run of Vainglorious with her company Applied Mechanics as part of PIFA. (You may have noticed a lot of photos of folks in Napoleonic outfits on PIFA promotional materials—all pretty much courtesy of Vainglorious!) This September she will be the lighting designer for The Ballad of Joe Hill, which Swim Pony Performing Arts is remounting and reimagining for the 2013 FringeArts Festival. Like the 2006 original, Joe Hill will be performed in Eastern State Penitentiary.

With a soft spot for new, experimental work, Maria is a member and resident lighting designer for The Riot Group and cofounder and resident production designer for Applied Mechanics. Chances are if you get out at all you have seen her work, which has included gigs with New Paradise Laboratories, The Berserker Residents, Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, Theatre Exile, and The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, and many others.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Maria Shaplin: I was raised in Burlington, Vermont. It is a small city with a thriving arts community. It’s a strange mix with a cold New England isolationist attitude, while we take things like recycling, organic food, and jam bands VERY seriously. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to ignore someone you know quite well if you see them on the street. Even if you are the ONLY TWO PEOPLE ON THE STREET! I think there is an intense respect for other people’s personal headspace there. But when Jerry Garcia died it felt like the whole city was in mourning for a week, and City Hall Park turned into a public art project/love-in. Art, music, drugs, all-wheel drive, sensible shoes, and a working knowledge of how to build a good fire—these are all very important in Vermont.

FringeArts: What got you into lighting design? Were you on crew in high school? At what point did you turn from the functional to an artistic approach?

Sophie Gets The Horns by The Riot Group.

Sophie Gets The Horns by The Riot Group.

Maria Shaplin: I was in show chorus in middle school (two decades before Glee made it cool). I messed up a solo in a country music review show—totally mortified—forgot two whole verses to “I Was Raised on Country Sunshine” whilst dressed in pleather and fringe. Unrecoverable humiliation. Never went on stage again. The next day I joined set crew and never looked back. In high school I was the stage manager, ordering around a crew of young misfits, and also building sets after school. I was running sound for a community theater as well.

Theater was always extra-curricular for me. I never thought people actually had a career in theatre. But the real turning point was in college. My brother [Adriano Shaplin of The Riot Group] started writing plays and touring them to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer. He would alternately take my sister and I each year. It happened that the second year I went, his third play at the festival, we won all the fringe awards and got picked up by a touring producer. It really was the theater dream—we were NOBODY, and we used to put “Five Stars from the Scotsman” on our posters when in fact we had never even been reviewed. But then we actually GOT five stars, and we were touring on a world stage. In 2000 we had a month-run in London, and then the next play in late 2001 and 2002, we toured all over England, and had dates in Germany and New York and San Francisco. I was the sound and light board operator, but on tour we were cutting costs and our British technical director was like, “You are learning how to do a light plot so you can help me, goddamnit.”

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