"I also get very attached to things, to stuff, and I started wondering what that was really about."
Geoff Sobelle apologises for the noise inside the cafe, and offers to move outside. It's unnecessary and I tell him so. He's refuelling after helping his sister move houses, and although an aversion to that particular labour of lugging boxes is far from unique, Sobelle, more than most, could make a case for having already filled his lifetime's quota of rummaging through boxes.
By trade and training an artist, performer, magician, writer, teacher, clown, co-artistic director of rainpan 43 and longstanding company member at Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre — all variously encompassed in his output concerning absurdity — it was a challenge he set himself to think outside the box that resulted in his rummaging through so many of them.
"It's like going through somebody's waste bin and trying to figure out what they did that day, or that week, in a given year 2500 years ago."
"The thing that started the project was a kind of personal dare to make something by myself. I've always made things with groups and collaborative theatre-making, there's always been at least one other partner," says Sobelle, mentioning long-time creative partner Trey Lyford.
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"So I was going to go solo. But then it was like: well what the hell am I doing? I don't want to make something about my life. I've always had a fascination with everyday objects, I think because of my background doing magic, and I also get very attached to things, to stuff, and I started wondering what that was really about, and if other people are drawn to them in the same way.
"Then I was thinking about, not like your grandmother's amulet that she gave to you, but what about all the pens in the back of your desk? The stapler that you forgot about? I was helping my sister move today, and, you know, it's like how difficult it was to get rid of that last pair of shoes that she's just never going to wear, but she's just beaten down by stuff, this tyranny of stuff."
The lightbulb moment for Sobelle was realising that despite it being a one-man show, it was more about the audience than himself; the stuff, for the most part, fell into place. It was simply a case of arranging it like a magic trick with readable actions, subversion, surprise.
"Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe," Sobelle muses mysteriously. "I thought a lot about archeological digs in doing this. An archeological dig is really just rooting through someone's garbage from like 2500 years ago, that's all your doing. And some things have decayed and some things have stayed behind and from this piece of garbage you really are trying to extrapolate an entire culture as though it were a crime scene, and that's amazing.
"It's like going through somebody's waste bin and trying to figure out what they did that day, or that week, in a given year 2500 years ago, based on what you're looking at; that is amazing and totally ridiculous! Now think about doing that in your own attic."