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Friday, November 17, 2017

What's Home?

Geoff Sobelle’s HOME, in which a house is constructed, is at the BAM Harvey from Dec 6—10. Sobelle answered some questions from Christian Barclay.

Photo: Maria Baranova

What drew you to the idea of exploring the relationship between “house” and “home”? 

When I first starting thinking about HOME, I was on the heels of my last independent work, The Object Lesson (2014 Next Wave). I was looking for a subject that everyone could relate to. No matter where you’re from or your current situation, I would imagine that just about everyone is concerned with their housing and their sense of “home.”

As we moved further into the process, the relationship between “house” and “home” became more immediate, more fundamental. There was something about a definitive form vs. something much less defined. I began to ask people what they meant by home. It was a hard thing for people to put into words. For the most part, people would define it as a “feeling.” A feeling of home. You know it when you’re there and you know when you’re not there, but it’s not exactly an address. So how, in the theater, a medium that is defined by three-dimensional space, can you render a thing like “home?”

Photo: Maria Baranova
How did you approach the technical challenge of building a house onstage, before an audience?

Steven Dufala and Steve Cuiffo are the two designers most principally involved with the illusions and design of the house as you see it on stage. There are a great many people involved—a host of technical gurus (most notably an amazing technical director named Chris Swetcky) and all of our designers. But in the beginning, the conversation boiled down to set design and illusion. I wanted to create an impression of time-lapse where you witness the evolution of an empty space––a stick-frame becomes a full-blown house that’s eventually abandoned––all in an hour.

We talked endlessly about different techniques, settling on some time-honored techniques that have been employed by magicians for the past 200 years, but rarely seen in this context. Out of respect to that great legacy of illusionists, I’ll have to leave it at that.

During the production, several different activities and gatherings take place within the house. Considering all of the events that take place within a home, how did you decide which ones to present?

We had to strike a balance. I wanted to find moments that could tell time. The audience would witness a development of time take place, without having to pin too much narrative on any one person that passes through the space. It was important that we give an impression of moving bodies through a single space, throughout time. I wanted to translate a sense of falling forward, but without the structure of a “story.”

I chose things that would read to an audience, and that our performers could make their own. Sometimes they were for comedic effect and sometimes they were poignant, but the impression is that your life just goes on running away like a rodeo––your house is really just the container.

Audience participation is a large part of your work. In the case of HOME, how––if at all––
does it change the structure, tone or content of the piece?

When thinking about HOME, I considered how I personally live in my house and the relationship between private and public spheres. The house that you choose to make a home is an intimate space. It’s a space that is a reflection of you and a creation of you, it is made of the debris and detritus around you. It’s your spider web and your beaver den. It is wholly created by you and those that you have chosen to live with.

Home seems to be defined by a combination of the architecture of the house and the memories of the people that passed through it. Each ghost adds some layer to this psychic striation that creates the bedrock of this strange phenomenon we call home.

This is the same with the theater. Performance is a kind of shell that is offered to an audience in hopes that they will enter into it. People come and (hopefully) house their own imaginative selves into the structure that they see on stage. This is how the empathy machine of theater fundamentally works.

So, in this way of thinking, it felt natural to bring the audience into the house that we build each night on stage. The show is built in such a way as to win the trust of the audience so that they will want to stand up and enter the house. They are the structure and content of this piece. We are wholly there to activate them in body and mind.

HOME lands in the BAM Harvey Theater Dec 6—10.

Christian Barclay is a publicist at BAM.

© 2017 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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