February 23, 2010
“Blurring the boundaries between art and life, high culture and low, the amateurish and the masterful, the shit and the sweet.”
After looking at twenty repertory theatres that boast flashy musicals, classic dramas and compelling pieces of the American soul, I’m surprised, but I have a weird urgency to blindly throw myself into a theatre “company” that mocks and manipulates all of the aforementioned, all that I thought I wanted to be a part. Rubber Rep scares me; I’m pretty adventurous, but Rubber Rep is, without apology, dauntless and radical. I can be honest and say that I would need to dig around my cluttered soul and piece together some kind of haphazard courage to march my ass to Austin and audition. I am, however, fascinated and plan to further stalk what they do, and how they’re threading their voices into American theatre today.
The first thing about them that really gets me excited, is their cult following; the brave audience that comes back every month knowing they’ll need to screw their jaws back in its hinges during the curtain call. These guys Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer have carved themselves a place in the art scene in Austin that works: their art shifts, travels, disgusts, disguises, confuses, offends, and most importantly; exists. They are known for plopping their shows a-top roofs, in living rooms, parking lots and Radio Shack’s. So the “exists” part for me is the most important because in a time when the dumbest thing a young lady could do is whisper to herself, “I’m an artist, I think”, Rubber Rep is screaming it, literally, from rooftops. On their blog, they discuss their devising process where the beginning often derives from manic obsessions, bizarre fascinations, and even morning rituals. These funny ideas tossed around during drinks produce packed houses with barely blinking audience members gawking at half-naked drag queens singing musical numbers about our government at large.
I really love and admire Rubber Rep’s ability to fearlessly push audience members into taking part in their shows; from what I can tell, the audience is another cast member in their productions. They seem to build moral puzzles for each patron to solve, and unlike most companies, they FORCE you to play. I get the sense that any person who buys a ticket for their shows knows that they will not sit idly by judging and intellectualizing the “points” these people are trying to make; they become a part of the journey, they’re strapped in for the ride, whether they like it or not. That kind of theatre is something I’ve always wanted to be a part of, but never shot my own fireworks out into The Pocket or a shopping mall or rooftop, to see myself achieve it. Having a navigation system like Rubber Rep would not give my growing pains a break, I’m sure, but would help me to find a new part of my “artist” that has yet to be explored, exploited or even discovered at all. They say they that it’s “time for theatre that doesn’t feel like theatre”. For my entire little life I thought theatre needed to fit into a certain kind of box, packaged just so, and in the past year or so, I can feel my artistic tastes fleshing out in ways I couldn’t have predicted. Perhaps now’s the time to run away to Austin, when I’m feeling rough and lude and stupid, and with any great luck, maybe I’ll find myself having coffee (and maybe a little whiskey) with this company on Sunday mornings, helping build blueprints for the next great show.
In 2007, playwright Wallace Shawn (I’m a big fan of this dude-from Vanya to “My Dinner with Andre”) gave his US premiere “A Thought in Three Parts” to Rubber Rep. In 1977, audiences created a mild uproar when Shawn produced the play in London. Parliament attacked the play due to pornographic material, and a vice squad later investigated the production. Shawn writes overtly political plays that deal with changing social classes, sex, drugs, and, in his words, “my interior life as a raging beast.” A well-known, controversial figure finding a home with an audacious little theatre company in Austin, Texas is pretty awesome. Rebecca Beegle is another playwright who works closely with Meyer and Hislope, crafting all sorts of gender-bender pieces that, from the production photos and reviews, all have an eerie need to make me want to come closer, but not without hesitation. Rubber Rep is a hip and fearless family that seems to live the motto I try every day to remind myself of: I’m not here for a long time; I’m here for a good time.
I emailed Hislope and Meyer earlier this week, and received a prompt response. I asked how they devise, who they are, and what’s coming up next:
“We are two guys in Austin, originally from Kansas and Michigan, making the kind of shows that we want to see, but not making them nearly quickly enough or in the quantity that we'd like. We blew it all out on THE CASKET OF PASSING FANCY in 2008... which was over 2 years in the making and contained just about everything in the world. I can send you a script if you'd like. It's a monster of a creative challenge that we'd love for people in other cities to take on. [Pocket 2011??] We're starting work on a new show beginning in may that will premiere in October... and then re-premiere in April 2011... it may or may not be based on your life.”
I. Want. In.