Steven Dufala Unpacks NYTW’s Mysterious New Show

Outside the Theatre   Steven Dufala Unpacks NYTW’s Mysterious New Show The designer helps peel back the curtain on the New York Theatre Workshop’s newest installation piece, The Object Lesson.
Steven Dufala
Steven Dufala Marc J. Franklin

Who: Steven Dufala
Outside: New York Theatre Workshop

Steven Dufala
Steven Dufala Marc J. Franklin

Steven Dufala is the scenic installation designer for Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson, the theatrical installation that has transformed NYTW into a giant storage facility. Actor and illusionist Sobelle performs in the show, but what else happens inside?

How would you best describe The Object Lesson?
It’s a mix between your grandparents’ attic, your own basement, and a storage facility. It’s a room full of stuff in an intimate context. Probably, “your grandparents’ attic” is the most accurate.

How much of what happens is performance and how much is simply exploring the space?
It’s a little bit of both. When you first come in, the first 15 to 20 minutes of the show is left up to you—to go through things, figure out what the space is, and to get lost in the stuff. We’re pretty sure that almost anyone who walks into the room is going to find something in one box or another that they get, or can relate to. Maybe it will be something they’ve lost—little mementos and things—or something that they have in storage themselves.

How much of the show is hidden and needs to be discovered?
The audience has to discover what’s in the boxes. Geoff is also really great at [directing] the audience where [he wants them to go].

So every audience member will have a different experience?
Definitely. And it will depend on where you are seated [during the show].

What’s the seating like?
The audience sits on boxes. There is also quite a bit of audience participation.

Can you reveal anything about Geoff’s performance?
There’s a dinner date that happens in the show and that is with an unsuspecting audience member. There are also a bunch of magic tricks.

In how many different places have you staged the show?
It premiered in Philadelphia in 2013 and we’ve done it in 13 cities. The show started out as a pile of dirt, not boxes. Geoff’s original vision was a huge mound of earth, which people could go and dig around in.

How did the two of you meet and begin collaborating?
We met at a party in Philadelphia and were fast friends. It’s a smaller scene there and everybody sort of knows one another. He did a show called Machines Machines Machines Machines that my brother and I made all the machines for—we're a collaborative duo as artists and that was our first proper collaboration with him.

You don’t work just in the theatre, but what appeals to you about this world?
The coolest part is that it’s hyper-collaborative.

For tickets and more information on The Object Lesson, running through March 19, visit nytw.org.

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