BWW Interview: THE OBJECT LESSON Director David Neumann Explains the Challenges When Faced with an Unpredictable Audience
THE OBJECT LESSON, by Geoff Sobelle, is an extremely visual, tactile piece that fills the theatre with stuff and invites audience members to wander around and sort through the clutter. The piece addresses our tendencies to lean toward consumerism and materialism and our attachment to objects-what we collect and what we discard.
Since the piece is going into it's final week at the New York Theatre Workshop, BroadwayWorld was able to chat with the show's director, David Neumann, about what it's like to be in control of a show that's with an unpredictable audience.
Check it out, below!
So, what's THE OBJECT LESSON about?
It's a piece that's really about our attachment to objects that we collect in life. The audience gets to explore a really intense version of that. They get to explore and open boxes and enter the theatre in a different role than traditionally sitting down in a chair as the curtains arise. It's a little more active, so the piece kind of moves around the space, and the space is filled with thousands of cardboard boxes, many of which are filled with items that you can look through. It's kind of like entering into one person's intense version of holding onto things and memories.
So, it's completely interactive and an audience member can just go anywhere they'd like?
Yes. Although, as the show progresses, everyone sort of learns how to deal with sidelines and Geoff (Sobelle) moves around the space, so he's always doing something close to somebody. People usually figure out how to arrange themselves. There's a little bit of a negotiation with your audience neighbor, which is encouraged. We do a lot of that at the beginning of the show, when people are milling about, there's a lot of action that happens.
What difficulties come with directing a space that an unpredictable audience get's to do whatever they please?
We have to embrace the unpredictable. We have to say "Oh, if we're going to let an audience member rifle through these boxes, we don't know what's going to happen." Sometimes people carry objects or important props from one place to another, so we have to keep and eye on how those things are going, and we some people who help out the audience, like ushers, who can get a prop or a back up prop if we need it. It's kind of like we're both into the experiment of it to see what it's like to sort of shift our patterns of watching theatre, how we think a story should be told and how we should behave. And it's nice, because it kind of creates a warmth in the room. You sort of feel like you're on the same team, in a different way than you when you see a typical show.
What exactly drew you to this project?
Geoff Sobelle. We've worked together before on a piece he did called THE ELEPHANT ROOM and we got along really well. So he had an idea for this piece and brought me into the room, and we started to work on it together. I love Geoff. He's an extraordinary artist and I was excited for the opportunity to work with him again. It's also a thoughtful show that makes us think about the objects we keep and how, to another person, that favorite necklace or what-have-you, might not really mean much, but to you, it's everything because it reminds you of someone who's gone or a time in your life. I think this show really strikes a nerve that way that's quite universal. That's an exciting part, to watch the audience recognize sort of themselves in the piece as it goes on.
This isn't the first time you directed this piece, correct?
No, no it's not. We premiered it a few years ago at the Philly Fringe Festival and then it's been on tour a few times. We also took it to the Brooklyn Academy Of Music, their Fisher space. We've had some experience with different audiences and different spaces, so we adapt the piece to whatever space we're moving to. Sometimes we're even given a theatre space, so what we end of usually doing is putting the audience on stage, sort of mimicking the kinds of feel it has here at the New York Theatre Workshop. And NYTW has been one of the most successful rooms for us, because it really feels like the space has transformed and like a storage facility, something we've always been aiming towards.
Would you say the NYTW is the ideal space for a show like this?
Yeah, it's one of the examples of it. This show is quite adaptable, oddly. We were all scared to move to smaller spaces, or larger spaces, with not knowing what the impact would be. What we've learned is that it is very adaptable. It can be a very intimate show for 30 people but it also works with 180. It's really fun to discover that.
Actor-illusionist- inventor and NYTW Usual Suspect Geoff Sobelle's "virtuosic" New York Times Critics Pick THE OBJECT LESSON is at NYTW for a strictly limited engagement until March 19th. This tactile installation turns the theatre into a storage facility of gargantuan proportion where audiences are free to roam and sift through the clutter. Sobelle transforms this makeshift attic into a space of reflection and wonder as he unpacks our relationship to everyday objects: breaking, buying, finding, fixing, giving, losing, winning, trading, selling, stealing, storing, collecting, cluttering, clearing, packing up, passing on, buried under... a world of things. THE OBJECT LESSON is a meditation on the stuff we cling to and the crap we leave behind.
For more information, including how to get tickets, click here.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus