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'FOOD' performance brings the 'sublime ridiculous' to ASU Gammage

Audience interaction a core feature of creator Geoff Sobelle's work


Man with spaghetti noodles on his head seated at a table full of food.

A lover of the "sublime ridiculous," actor, director and creator Geoff Sobelle explores the rarity in mundane themes. Photo by Maria Baranova

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October 05, 2023

Actor, director and creator Geoff Sobelle considers himself a dedicated absurdist, chiefly interested in moments of the "sublime ridiculous," as outlined in his artist statement. What do moments of the sublime ridiculous entail? Sobelle explains it best.

“The sublime tends to mean something almost transcendent or a moment of grace after rock bottom. In a way, it’s a mystical awareness or openness, something in that regard. The ridiculous is, in a funny way, the opposite,” Sobelle said. “It's like opening up your drawer to get your printer cables out and you're suddenly just in a rat's nest of power cables. It’s that world of overwhelming simplicity, like tidal waves of just ordinariness. There are these moments where in the midst of doing something or in a moment of something utterly ridiculous, you might find a little sliver of grace. That’s what it’s all about.”

Sobelle’s work exemplifies this definition. His recent trilogy of performances — "The Object Lesson," "HOME" and, most recently, "FOOD" — home in on the concept by exploring the rarity in mundane themes and the relationships audiences have with objects, living and eating.

“FOOD” debuts Friday, Oct. 20, at ASU Gammage and runs through Oct. 21. Tickets are on sale now at asugammage.com/shows-events/food.

“I should say that's kind of an accidental trilogy, but they are kind of a bigger piece together. They're purposefully so simple, but so massive that you could never get your arms around it," Sobelle said. “And I love that; it's just a ridiculous sort of project to even try. They all also find unique ways of working with the audience, so the audience themselves are very much at the heart of each of these works.”

Audience interaction is a core feature of many of Sobelle’s works, as he believes the audience is the reason live performance exists in the first place. His affinity for using the voice and emotion of the audience stems from a background in magic, developed during his youth.

In the same way that a magician might ask someone to pick a card, Sobelle makes a point to make the audience feel as if they are in the same space the performance is in, blurring the lines between the stage and the seats.

“I think in magician land, you’re with the audience. You're always in direct address and it's always participatory. Then when I studied in Paris, I just discovered the clown, which is similarly totally directed,” Sobelle said. “In that world, the engine is the relationship between the audience and the performer. I've always been really fascinated by performances that are rehearsed and yet it still feels as if it's falling out for the first time in front of you. So it's my own kind of funny magic trick.”

Sobelle’s experiences abroad expanded his passion for physical comedy beyond what he knew from an American lens. Concepts like the mime and the clown, as well as icons who embodied them, like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, have inspired his performances to the core, focusing on relationships and exploring everyday life in a greater way.

Due to the natural yet rehearsed nature of his performances, each show has the unique element of a new crowd every time — an independent variable that can alter moments of the show. Sobelle jokes that it makes some performances more interesting than others, but that people are endlessly interesting nonetheless, particularly in his newest performance, "FOOD."

“It’s always so hard to say what the audience can expect from 'FOOD' because there's a lot of surprises in the show. I'm hoping that it will allow them to see their everyday life in a new light,” Sobelle said. “We want to focus on the relationship and history to food, flavor, preparation and all of those things. I'm hoping that it's the kind of thing that stimulates a lot of conversation after the show.”

While Sobelle’s "FOOD" is performed around the world, he is particularly excited to return to ASU Gammage. After performing "HOME" there in October 2019 and participating in ASU Gammage's Digital Connections series with an online performance in 2020, Sobelle has been able to form meaningful connections at ASU.

“I have a very big debt of gratitude to ASU Gammage with putting a lot of faith in me and co-commissioning my work," Sobelle said. “It’s really amazing and incredibly important in this theater ecosystem. I love the experience of being there in Tempe. It's a super cool audience and great space — I’m super excited to come back.”

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