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Making a house a home: constructing a dwelling live onstage in Geoff Sobelle's work

The designer of Home, where an entire house is built before the audience's very eyes, explains how they put the set together

© Hillarie Jason

HOME is a work that was built from scratch in almost every regard, with everything happening in tandem – research informing performance, performance informing what was needed to develop aspects of the house, and those material things then informing the performance. We began investigating simply what it was to inhabit space – moving in, moving out, asserting one's personality on a room, and then replacing that with someone else: out with the old, in with the new, asking ourselves what comes, what goes, what stays. In this manner, performance actually guided the process for a quite a while. Geoff had a lot of ideas about magic and illusion, and so these considerations also played a large role from the beginning.

We spent a lot of time exploring what 'home' meant to us, our families, in general, and in terms of the project ahead of us. It was quite some time before the actual house began to take shape: first a door, then a wall, a room, one story, then two. Stairs. The performers would work with this abridged vocabulary, revise things, add gestures, furniture, and expand, almost becoming a metaphor for housing itself, for development.

What was needed for this structure to become our home

This process became a way for me to understand how the house itself needed to behave, taking the better part of two years to realize what was needed for this structure to become our home. We made and remade versions of the house a number of times before we actually designed what became the set, and even now, little things keep changing.

© Hillarie Jason

The goal was very much to make a thing that could change and evolve over the course of the show with the performers, with the action, and kind of emulate the real lifespan of an actual house, but sped up. For us, the house was the inanimate thing we project our lives onto. It was a surface that bore the marks and history of the lives in it, the scars and traces, so that by the end the audience gets to know the house, can sense the ghosts, remember when the place was new, and be surprised by how much things have changed.

There is a deep and tenuous intimacy in a home, and in ours is rightly shared by the assertions and action of the performers, and the evolution of the house as it appears, from nothing, and little by little becomes so overtaken by the routines of daily life that we almost take for granted the closets, bed, shower and kitchen – that there should be coffee in the morning, and milk in the refrigerator.

In this conversation between the structure and its inhabitants, the house serves primarily to record this dialogue and give it place. Further, it strives to become almost another character, or a kind of exo-character. This effect is then doubled when situated in a theater, our ambition ultimately being manifest in the transformations of the house on stage to engage the entire theatre – inviting the audience into our expanded hospitality.

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