NET/TEN Shareback: Applied Mechanics & Headlong Dance - Ode to Headlong

2013-14 Exchange Grant Recipients

Applied Mechanics (Philadelphia, PA) participated in administrative and organizational workshops with Headlong Dance Theater (Philadelphia, PA) to develop a strong sustainable business model, and to allow Headlong to test run their new Incubated Artist program.


Applied Mechanics provided NET with the following blog post about their work with Headlong Dance Theater during the 2013-14 Exchange Grant project period, as well as the links and resources below.

Ode to Headlong
April 28, 2015
By Rebecca Wright

The other day, I took a short walk with Amy Smith in Huntingdon PA. We talked about grant applications, funding structures, and labor-sharing administrative work. We were walking to the final day of tech for a piece we created together with students at Juniata College. This collaboration is a pleasant by-product of the relationship cultivated through Headlong’s Incubated Artist Program, of which Applied Mechanics is one of the inaugural companies.

Supported in part by a generous grant from the Network of Ensemble Theaters, the Incubated Artist Program is an awesome initiative whereby Headlong offers administrative mentorship, free and discounted rehearsal space, fiscal sponsorship, and producorial support to young Philadelphia companies and solo artists. For Applied Mechanics, this has meant: monthly meetings with Amy during which we’d check in about the company and she’d conduct guided workshops with us on everything from budgeting to making touring one-sheets, applying for grants through a local fiscal sponsor (thus saving us from always having to go through Fractured Atlas), presenting at one of Headlong’s First Friday Open Salons, and participating in a meeting with the whole group of incubated artists to discuss mentorship and best practices.

On a less tangible though no less significant level, it has also meant that we had a buddy in our corner. Headlong cheered us on and consulted with us through the process of creating and funding We Are Bandits. They advised us as we hired our first part-time administrator. They’ve conducted numerous detailed conversations with us about our administrative systems and company practices, helping us envision and articulate a more productive, supported, sustainable future. As an alternative-model organization with a long history of experimenting both artistically and organizationally, Headlong has always been sympathetic with our desire to carve our own path as a company. They get that we don’t want to be just another 501c3 and they support our experiments in creating a workspace that reflects our values. Through our work together in the Incubated Artist Program, we have come to feel united in the labor of creating alternative spaces, and, in so doing, working to create an artistic landscape that reflect current economic realities and truly supports artists as people and culture-makers in a changing world.

The emotional and psychological difference it makes to have allies in the struggle of art-making and institution-building can’t be overstated. But there are also lots of nuts and bolts practical things we learned from Headlong in the Incubator. A lot of these struck a “duh, obviously, why didn’t we already know that” kind of chord, but sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else. Here is a sampling of the “duh” tricks and tips from our Incubator sessions:

    When you are making a production budget, make Best, Worst, and Medium case scenario versions so that you are prepared for whatever ends up happening with the money coming in.

    If anyone shows interest in your work, take them seriously and set up a meeting. Even a conversation over coffee can yield things down the line.

    When you are making your one-sheets for touring, put lots of representative images on them so that people who’ve never seen the work before can get a sense of what it looks like.

    When making your general operating budget, include fees for all administrative work. Do not touch these fees, even as you revise the budget. Paying people for their time has more to do with attitude and priorities than how much money you’re bringing in.

When, at this beginning of this year, we convened with the rest of the Incubated Artists to talk about how the program was going, it was clear that each of us had gotten different things out of it, on both the practical and less tangible levels. While the offered support was the same (see above), Headlong had thoughtfully tailored the practical advice and the focus of the energy to each participants’ particular needs and moment. One artist spoke about free rehearsal space making the biggest difference in her life. Another was most grateful for Headlong handling payroll for her on a big project. A third talked about the opportunity to be in conversation with other working artists reframing her practice and her administrative work. What was abundantly clear was that Headlong had taken the Incubator as an opportunity to get to know this group of people on their own terms and learn about how best to support them.

At this meeting, we also talked about ways we could all use the program to better support and communicate with each other. It’s amazing how soul-feeding it is to gather with other artists, and how hard it is to organize such gatherings. This of course has a lot to do with schedule: working artists are busy and it often seems impossible to squeeze in another meeting. Someone brought up the possibility of creating an online forum for Headlong’s Incubated Artists to engage in conversation and exchange; the suggestion was met with groans: “the last thing I need is more email!” We all agreed that the First Friday Open Salons are great opportunities for us to see each others’ work and support each other as audience members. But it’s rare that more than a couple of us can make any given month’s event. “And I want to see your finished pieces, not just your showings,” one artist said. “And I want to share things about each others’ processes not just the stuff we’re already making public,” said another. The Incubated Artist Program is designed to be roughly two years; the meeting in January was essentially a group mid-point check in. I anticipate that the next year of this inaugural run of the program will be in part focused on continuing the conversations about inter-artist communication and exchange.

One really nice thing about this Juniata gig is that it’s allowed Amy and I to continue the conversations started in our Incubated Artist sessions with more leisure, more detail, and in the context of actually being in process together. We’ve talked about budgeting and labor sharing, administrative structures and the changing funding landscape, relationships with collaborators and the journey towards company sustainability. We’ve also talked a lot about process: what we like to do in a room, how we like to engage with material and collaborators, what we respond to, what kind of warm-ups we like, and where this all comes from for each of us. And we’ve talked a lot about touring, relationships with presenters, and the need for a new touring model in our changing cultural landscape.

Touring more extensively is a goal of Applied Mechanics. We’ve been working, under Headlong’s guidance, to set up an out-of-town engagement for We Are Bandits. Headlong has a lot of experience touring, and has contributed to bringing national attention to Philadelphia by playing on national and international stages. Amy believes that the routes by which Headlong achieved this success are largely closed now to young artists. It’s harder to develop long-standing relationships with curators now since there’s so much turnover in those positions, and the days of a presenter saying “I know you and love you and will produce your next show sight unseen” are largely over (unless you’re, like, Robert Wilson.) In Huntingdon, over dinners and on our walks to and from rehearsal, we’ve gone over the details of this assessment and hatched lots of embryonic plans for building alternative paths to getting the work out there. I’m excited to continue these conversations in the next year of the Incubated Artist program, and to put some of these plans into action with Applied Mechanics.

Headlong is famously one of the most awesome community members in the Philly art scene. Long standing residents of Philadelphia, they have been a major part of building an audience for experimental work here, their Performance Institute brings young experimental artists to the city every year, their Dance Theater Camp annually offers free training and exchange opportunities to artists, former co-artistic director Andrew Simonet started Artists U, and Amy has a side business doing artists’ taxes. There is not a company in a town that offers more open-hearted, wide-reaching, thoughtful support to local artists. In addition to benefiting from this seemingly endless well of generosity, Applied Mechanics has, through the Incubated Artist Program, gotten a window into the mindset that has led to this singular type of success. It’s about building and committing to a human-centered business model. It’s about claiming the practical right to have your company reflect your values and function according to them. It’s about empowering yourself to interface with the funding and financial systems and the powers that be without holding yourself to their definitions of what you should look like, what success looks like, what your identity as an artist should be. It’s about prioritizing people, respecting artists, and consistently reflecting on and reevaluating what it means to be a working artist in the world. Applied Mechanics has already learned so much from being in Headlong’s Incubated Artist Program. We can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.


The following are links related to the exciting collaboration between Headlong Performance Institute and Applied Mechanics Theater Company, which resulted in:

1. A punk rock feminist show, We Are Bandits

2. A performance at Headlong First Friday featuring company members Bayla Rubin and Maria Shaplin

3. A dialogue that improved many of our company practices, including compensating ourselves for administrative work, reaching out constructively to community members interested in our work, and improving the way we represent ourselves to producing organizations



Photos from We are Bandits


Applied Mechanics

Headlong Dance Theater


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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