Adaptive shape control is essential in many high-performance engineering systems, such as nozzles, airplane wings, helicopter blades, etc. Recent development of smart structures and structronic systems offers new alternatives to shape control with inherent and embedded actuator components. Imposed shape control often involves large deformations implying that the conventional linear theory is no longer applicable. This study is to explore a new structural control concept based on nonlinear theories. Nonlinear piezoelectric shell equations are derived based on von Karman geometric nonlinearity. Physical significance and application are discussed. As to compare the linear and nonlinear theories, a zero-curvature shell–plate is investigated. Analytical results suggest that the linear theory is indeed invalid when large deformation shape control is considered. Differences between the two theories are presented. Control effects of the plate with polymeric and ceramic piezoelectric actuators are compared.