Steven Dufala transfers his inventive artwork to the Fringe Fest stage

'Home' opens tonight at 8 p.m. | Maria Baranova
Maria Baranova

Steven Dufala recognizes the irony of working on a show called “HOME” when he’d been effectively without one – at least an artistic one – for more than a year. Although he’s best known as one-half of the pranksterishly surrealist art-making duo the Dufala Brothers, theater has recently taken over his life while his studio has been boxed up and put into storage.

“HOME,” the latest piece by inventive Philly theater artist Geoff Sobelle, is just one of two pieces in this year’s Fringe Festival that have been consuming Dufala’s time. While he’s credited with set design on Sobelle’s show, he’s a full-fledged co-creator with another Fringe regular, Thaddeus Phillips, on “A Billion Nights on Earth,” which draws on inspirations as far-ranging as children’s storybooks and kabuki theater.

After the two shows finish their runs this weekend, Dufala will finally move into a new studio with brother Billy, where he can get back to his own drawing practice and the duo’s collaborative sculptures – famously absurdist work that makes witty mash-ups of, for instance, a dumpster-turned-coffin, or hosts a toilet-tricycle race through the streets of Old City. Still, that sense of limbo was shared by many of the artists who worked on “HOME,” and helped shape the show.

“We’ve all come to realize that that idea of permanence is a bit of an illusion,” Dufala says. “Homes fall down and always have to be maintained – there’s always something wrong. Even [on a larger scale] the history of the United States is one of flux and movement and migration. So the show traces an arc from nothing to a full house and all the life that exists in it, to dilapidation and ruin.”

While “HOME” started with a big idea, “A Billion Nights on Earth” began with Phillips and Dufala simply throwing around visual ideas and whimsies and let them guide the show. Phillips is renowned for his clever setpieces, which can turn a simple object into any number of new settings – a tarp that transforms from ship to sea creature to the ocean itself, or a rotating glass box that can be a Winnebago or a gas station. So he and Dufala seem a natural fit, and in collaboration they took their cues from Phillips’ young son.

“Thaddeus wanted to make a show essentially that a 3-year-old could get,” Dufala explains. He was fascinated by his son’s imagination, how things didn’t have to add up and anything could be anything else. So we started with just a romp through the imagination, making little models and playing, and then we tried to figure out where there was a story in that.”

These two shows follow the recent success of Sobelle’s last show, the moving “The Object Lesson,” and Lightning Rod Special’s provocative “Underground Railroad Game,” both of which have kept Dufala busily on the road – something he thought he’d given up when he quit the band Man Man several years ago.

“When I was in Man Man I realized I didn’t like touring that much, and now I feel like I’ve been doing it all the time,” he laments. “These shows are all kind of experimental and you hope that they do well, but that’s never a guaranteed thing. So to have a bunch of them take off at once is crazy and can easily take over your world. I’m definitely looking forward to spending some solitary time with a piece of paper and a pencil.”

Sept. 13-16
Prince Theater
1412 Chestnut St.

“A Billion Nights On Earth”
Sept. 14-17
140 N. Columbus Blvd.

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