PHILADELPHIA: Hoarders take note: Physical theatre artist Geoff Sobelle’s latest creation is The Object Lesson, in which a man, alone with a heap of artifacts culled from everyday life, explores the inner life of said objects. It runs at FringeArts (formerly the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe) Sept. 12–21.
Sobelle, who is a member of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company and a co-artistic director of rainpan 43, drew inspiration for The Object Lesson from two very different comedians with similar names: the observational stand-up George Carlin and the vaudevillian clown George Carl.
“Carlin has a very famous routine where he talks about our ‘stuff’ and other people’s ‘shit,’” Sobelle says. “Like, ‘Get your shit away from my stuff! Your shit’s lying around everywhere, there’s no room for my stuff!’ I really found this funny—the relative value that we have for all this junk that we accumulate. Do objects have an intrinsic value? This was a jumping-off point.”
It’s not the first time that comedians have provided a starting point for Sobelle. “Laurel and Hardy inspired me and Trey Lyford to make all wear bowlers, and Buster Keaton was an inspiration for machines machines machines machines machines machines machines,” he says.
Sobelle, who performs the solo project, describes it as a “performance/ritual” without a story or dramatic arc. “In The Object Lesson, I am more curious about the audience than the performer. That’s why I think of it more as a ritual—because the performer is really only there to facilitate something that happens within the audience.” The theatrical event hangs on the physical presence of the performers. “There are a lot of lo-fi surprises throughout the piece,” Sobelle adds.
“The process has been long and strange—beginning with nothing, finding my way on the top of a massive mound of earth, back in a room full of nothing, then tons of cardboard boxes,” says Sobelle, who admits that his personal favorite object is a little statue of the Eiffel Tower. “There are millions of them. It is no different from other ones that you can buy. But this one was given to me. It does not appear in the show.
“I hope that the audience will have a chance to have a fresh look at their relationship to their things,” Sobelle continues. “The things they keep, the things they toss, the things they break, the things they buy, the things they take, the things they lend, the things they donate, the things they remember, the things they bury.…”