“Assemble” is a forthcoming work of immersive theater by The Assemble Project. Conceived and directed by Talya Chalef, this limited engagement runs January 16 – February 2 at a Secret Brooklyn Location revealed to guests after their ticket purchase. It is presented as part of the Exponential Festival.
“Assemble” follows a 40-year-old woman named Jane as she navigates life. Described as a guerrilla, choose-your-own-adventure performance that transforms the mundane spaces of a store in Brooklyn into a series of worlds, fantasies and meditations, the show encourages participants download an app to their phones and are prompted to navigate and interact with the store through a series of choices and tasks. The resulting experience is part immersive theatre, part audio tour and an entirely unique experience for each person.
Recently director Talya Chalef discussed this project and the processes behind it via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the arts and why do you gravitate towards the theater?
Talya Chalef (TC): I was that drama kid who played dress ups from a very young age and auditioned for every play/musical in school. I don’t know if there was ever a time when I wasn’t in the theatre or insisting on taking more dance/singing/drama classes. It was my happy place and still is.
MM: What experiences do you most draw your inspiration from creatively?
TC: My family’s migration story: my dad’s parents were survivors in WW2, so I think a lot about intergenerational memory. I also grew up in South Africa as Apartheid fell, so I think I’ve internalised the idea that change is possible. And as an adult, I’ve come to question my own inherited biases and prejudices from living within that absurd bubble. Lastly, my experience as a kid within a progressive Jewish youth group taught me the value of participatory processes, community and immersive learning.
MM: How did you come up with the concept for “Assemble” and why did you decide to make the lead character specifically forty years old?
TC: I’ve had the form of the idea for a while. Creating immersive audio stories within this particular store seemed like a no brainer. (Can’t disclose store!) And I recently turned forty and had my own mid-life questioning, which clearly influenced the thematic direction of the work!
MM: What were the challenges of getting this staged?
TC: We’re doing this guerilla style and lending much of the work to the existing objects and layout of the store. We have no idea if they’ll change anything on us. And it’s a constant source of anxiety that we may arrive at a location that no longer exists! This actually happened right after our November creative development.
MM: How many different storyline “options” are there for visitors?
TC: Approximately 13 or 14 different experiences with choices within those.
MM: What are some of the more outlandish rooms/areas?
TC: Without giving too much away, there are moments where we ask participants to get into bathtubs to experience a little private moment.
MM: What’s your favorite segment of the show and why?
TC: Close to the ending where our protagonist Jane starts to question what’s come before and speak out.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
TC: A fun playful and at times poignant experience that in moments makes them think about the choices they make in their own life and the personal or societal costs associated.
MM: What are your ultimate career goals?
TC: Being paid/commissioned to continue making new projects with fantastic collaborators while presenting them in spaces across the US and internationally. Aka, what I’m doing but being paid far more!
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and what topics would you like to address artistically in the future?
TC: I’ve written a pilot for an original TV show with a buddy of mine and we’re working on sending that around. And I’ll likely take a visit to Cape Town sometime this year to scope out a project I’d like to do there. Other than that, hopefully we can get some interest from festivals abroad to present Assemble. This is the most tour-able show I’ve ever created.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
TC: Let’s be kind to one another and ourselves. The world needs a little more love and a little less anger and noise.