After five years of DIY experimental theater, Applied Mechanics is now grappling with the 501c3 question. Should they make the move toward official non-profit status? If they do, will they continue to make theater on their own terms?
Or will they become part of the machine?
Their latest Philly Fringe offering, “Overseers,” presents a dystopian future, where the forces of institutional science, religion and bureaucracy lord over creative impulses.
“I definitely don’t think it’s an accident that we made a show about this stuff at this moment,” says Rebecca Wright, who directed “Overseers” and helped to write it with the six other members of AM.
“Right now, as a group, we have big questions about power structures, sustainability and control.”
At least in part, those questions are arising due to the troupe’s success. Last year’s offering, “Portmanteau,” was a Fringe hit, allowing the Mechanics to think bigger for the next project.
Created for well under $5,000, “Overseers” is part art-installation, part narrative play, presented in an expansive industrial space on Washington Avenue. The audience is invited to walk-through Maria Shaplin’s set design, interacting with characters and even helping with special effects along the way.
AM developed the piece in just under three months, borrowing ideas and language from a disparate assortment of authors from Don DeLillo to Andy Warhol.
“The script,” says Wright, “is a collage of original writing from company members and sections of text that were borrowed or stolen, depending on how you look at it.”