Philadelphia-based artist Trey Lyford uses the forgotten workplace of a middle-aged desk clerk to create an experience about memory and loss in the world premiere of The Accountant, supported by a Center grant and running Sept. 6–9 at Christ Church Neighborhood House.
The Fringe Festival mainstay blends physical theater, slapstick, illusion, vaudeville, and an online microsite to invite audiences to explore the moments that make up who they are.
Ahead of the premiere, we asked Lyford how he hopes the audience will connect with his newest work on stage. “Underneath the absurdity and humor, below the accountant’s surface of failure, is a human that we can all relate to—a person lost in the world and just trying to make sense of it all,” Lyford says. “So I hope you can find a way into the work by recognizing the failures that we all face.”
Lyford says he designed the production to reflect what he perceives as audiences’ “deeper and stronger demand for authentic voices in their own image…Failure and weakness are much more beautiful to me than perfect teeth and a good jaw line. I want people to celebrate that with me,” he said. “When I look back at my work and distill it down to its core elements, I find that vulnerability is at the center.”
The tools Lyford uses to engage audiences with the performance include slapstick, inspiration from old vaudeville routines, and magic. “I have always loved the absurd and the sublime, and I think magic techniques can bring those things into a performance in a way that nothing else can. It offers up poetic imagery that can resonate in so many ways,” Lyford says. “So for me, it’s as important of a tool as dance or sound design or even text.”
Lyford started using traditional illusion techniques through his work with 2006 Pew Fellow Geoff Sobelle and actor and magician Steve Cuiffo. “We began to love the way magic can change the rules of reality. What we think we know to be true transforms, and wonder and possibility emerge,” he says. “After working with it for so long, illusion is just always in the room with me now.”
The mix of performance elements Lyford brings to The Accountant have become his signature. For this project, the audience experience also extends from the stage to an online gallery of memories. Titled (re) collection, the artist invites visitors to publish their memories in an online space. Lyford says it’s a way for audiences to share in the performance, engage in the themes of the work, and reflect on significant memories of their own.
“When I began to lose people in my life dear to me, one of the things I missed the most was the access to their memories. So in some ways, The Accountant is a love story to them—to their lives but also to the collection of moments that formulated who they were,” Lyford says. “As I collected my own stories for the show, I couldn’t help but wonder what other people held as their most formative moments.”
The Accountant was created in collaboration with performers Ben Bass and Coralie Holum Lyford, composer Cole Kamen-Green, and designers Eric Novak, Tara Webb, and Robin Stamey.