Stage, Left: Exit Josh Meyer
rend your garments and gnash your teeth:
One half of the wonder twins behind Austin's Rubber Repertory has left the building. Worse: He's left the city, the entire state. He's moved to that City of Angels on the far west coast of this grayed nation of ours.
I mean, he's gone to L.A.
Josh Meyer, after more than a decade of creative fomenting and unforgettable theatrical production in partnership with his friend (and fellow University of Kansas alum) Matt Hislope, is no longer among us in this land of weed and breakfast tacos.
But why has he gone? To seek his fortune?
To seek romance, more like.
The re-kindling of romance, to be precise.
And to exercise a few times a week with Richard Simmons.
NB: Those last two items are true but unrelated.
So I figured a sort of exit interview was required here. After all, Meyer and Hislope were responsible for bringing the world Wallace Shawn's A Thought in Three Parts – a live-action pornography (at least in its second Part) that moved the visiting playwright to tears with its power & verisimilitude. More importantly, in the river of years now downstream, the duo premiered their original works Red Cans and The Casket of Passing Fancy and Biography of Physical Sensation and Surprise Annie and, most recently, Jubilee.
NB: No, we haven't forgotten Mister Z Loves Company, you sick little monkey.
They brought a long run of productions that didn't go unnoticed among all the other spectacles in this relentlessly burgeoning urb. Hell, these Rubber Rep boys have been on the cover of the Chronicle so many times in the past ten years, you'd think they were theatrical incarnations of Alejandro Escovedo or something.
Yeah, you know what we're sayin'.
So, yes: An exit interview. In which your reporter met with Meyer – in the same Luby's where this interview had been conducted years earlier – and got the lowdown on the hightailing ...
Brenner: Josh, you're leaving us. Is it more because of your love interest in Los Angeles, or is it more the possibility of acting in movies and television and that sort of thing?
Meyer: Well, I've tried to break it down into percentages, but it's kind of hard to quantify. It's more like both of those are a big part of it, and there are a lot of things that are a little part of it.
Brenner: What are the smaller things?
Meyer: I was telling someone that eleven percent is Richard Simmons.
Meyer: Eleven percent, I think so. I can't tell you how fun it was, working out with him the last time I was there. And the idea that you can go to this place and work out with Richard Simmons three times a week, for like $12, if you want to? I'm such a sucker for novelty like that. But only eleven percent.
Brenner: Which leaves a bit of percentage unaccounted for ...
Meyer: L.A. is not a place I ever thought I would possibly want to live. But then I visited there this fall and I had kind of a magical time, and it wasn't what I thought it would be like. And I'm just looking forward to having that feeling of being in a city and being so alive to it again, you know? Austin was that way for at least the first, like, four years for me – where everything was, you're finding so much that's new all the time, and I was much more compelled to get out and explore the city and do things I would never normally do. Going to home canning demonstrations and Labor Day Songs Of Solidarity singalongs, all these amazing things. And I want that experience again.
Brenner: A kind of fresh start, yeah.
Meyer: There's also the shift in perspective, when you've lived in a place for ten years. At first everyone seems unapproachable. The first job I had in Austin, I was at the Gallup Poll, and I trained with Catherine Berry. And she said, "Oh, you do theatre? You should meet my brother Ron – he does theatre." And I was completely intimidated to contact Ron Berry – and I didn't. And then I met him maybe three years later, while doing Orange. And now I feel like, "Wow, everyone is just so generous and great and accepting," and you just can't understand how you were ever so intimidated. And I feel like Austin has been the perfect city for what we do, that enough people give a shit at all. And the Chronicle has been such a source of validation for us, too. I feel it would've been so easy for nobody to pay any attention to us at all. And I think this move will be a good rebooting of Rubber Repertory, of getting away from the habit of always focusing on the next show. Just getting away from all that and kind of seeing what bubbles to the surface.
Brenner: So you plan on keeping Rubber Rep going remotely?
Meyer: I think it'll always be going, I just don't know that we'll be actively producing anything for a while. But Matt and I are pretty committed to each other as best friends, and I'm sure we'll still talk to each other six times a day. And I'll always be thinking about what kind of theatre I want to make. So, I don't know, we'll see what happens.
Brenner: Well, at least you've considered this stuff. I mean –
Meyer: Yeah, but when I still thought I'd never ever want to live in LA, I almost moved there in a state of psychosis last summer.
Meyer: I went completely crazy. Because I was dealing with a parasite.
Meyer: Yeah. I always felt like such a stable person – I don't have real big highs or lows. But this was either bird mites or rat mites, something that started in my bed and was in my room. Do you know about these things? Have you read about them at all?
Brenner: You mean like ... the things that transmit toxoplasmosis?
Meyer: Maaaaaaybe. What's toxoplas – what is it?
Brenner: It's a condition brought on by pathogens that, ah, rats carry them. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but they do something to the rats' brain chemistry that makes the rats crave the smell of cat piss. So the rats go where the cats are, and of course the rats are attacked, and the pathogens are transmitted to the cats, and then the cats transfer them, these plasmoids, to the humans.
[Editor's note: Toxoplasmosis.]
Meyer: I'm not sure if this is that or not. It is the kind of thing that people connect to leading to that horrible crazy disease where you have the, the threads that you're pulling out of you?
Brenner: Oh – right, right.
[Editor's note: Morgellons Syndrome.]
Meyer: So these mites or whatever, they're completely invisible. And I would feel them, after I'd been in bed a while, starting to crawl all over me. But then, eventually, I could never get them off me, and they'd be on me all day. I'd feel them at work. I'd constantly feel them crawling on me.
Brenner: Now, these are actual things? Or just the sensation of things?
Meyer: I believe they're actual things. But they're so small, a doctor can't really, you know, everyone kind of thinks you're crazy. I'd hold a magnifying glass, and I could see my hairs move when I felt them running across me. But I couldn't see them. And then you read peoples' accounts online, people who've dealt with these things for years, and how their entire life revolves around dealing with them, and I can see how it's an instant ruining of your entire quality-of-life. And I'd adopt some of their practices – like I sprayed down all the surfaces of my room with salt water. I'd spray my sheets with Windex, spray my body with Listerine.
Brenner: Have you seen or read A Scanner Darkly?
Meyer: [laughs] No, I haven't.
Brenner: Because that's a big part of it. At the start, anyway, in the book. This guy, freaking out from drugs, dealing with the feeling of things crawling all over him. "Eventually it kills you – that's what an aphid is."
Meyer: Okay, then I can watch the movie now, and be okay with watching it.
Brenner: So what ... cured you?
Meyer: Um, you know, you keep everything very clean. And some kinds of them will go away on their own, after a month or six weeks or something, because they're really not able to survive off of humans, I guess. So after about six weeks, it started gradually get better. And then eventually, it went away. but the worst-case scenarios I was reading, a lot of people who literally have to sell their house, get rid of all their things, sell their car, quit their job, and live in motels for three weeks while they're sanitizing everything like three times a day and then start over in a new place. And that's the only way they can get rid of them.
Brenner: Okay, but you survived that, and now you're moving to L.A. for –
Meyer: For, now, good reasons. I was then just thinking that I was ready to leave and go to L.A. as a refuge. Because I wasn't dating Michelle at the time, but I knew she was there and would take me in. But then I got cast in this movie last summer that shot for six weeks, so I just said, if the bugs are still here when the movie's over, I'm leaving. But they resolved themselves.
Meyer: Michelle Flanagan. You know her.
Brenner: Yeah. But you've known her for a while. So when did this romance strike up?
Meyer: I guess it started, on my side, near the end of Red Cans. I had a big crush on Michelle, and I sent her a letter in the mail, asking her on a date.
Brenner: In the mail? Didn't you guys see each other around town?
Meyer: This was after Red Cans had ended, so we weren't seeing each other a lot, maybe just once in a while.
Brenner: Did you have her phone number? Her email?
Meyer: Yeah, but I sent her a letter.
Brenner: Oh, that's wonderful.
Meyer: And she sent me a letter back very quickly. Declining the invitation. Very very kindly declining the invitation. She just wasn't in a place, personally, to date anyone. And I always like to – and I feel that girls don't necessarily like this, but – I always like to make my intentions very clear. I like things to be clear that I'm seeing it as a date from the very beginning? I can understand just hanging out as friends and seeing if anything develops, so you have an "out" if it's not. But, when I'm really serious about something, I want it to be known. So about four or five months passed, and I sent her another letter asking her on a date. And I think I proposed a specific time, maybe four weeks in the future, for the date? So she accepted that time. And then we saw each other several times before we had the date ~ which was kind of awkward. But, uh, it went really well. And we were together for three years. And then it kind of ... fell apart. But we never stopped liking each other. And she'd been in L.A. for two years, now.
Brenner: But, wait, where's the rekindling part?
Meyer: Well, I guess it rekindled when I went and visited her in the fall. And we drove up Highway One. And, at that point, I think it seemed clear to us that if we were in the same city we'd be together? But we just had't really talked about it, because neither of us had any desire to live in the city the other person was in. But then, when I visited, it was like, "Wow, I think I could move here. I think it'd be fun to live here." And I think maybe the first forty times I said that, she got mad and told me not to say that. Because it seemed like false promises, maybe? But when it became obvious that I wasn't joking, it also became obvious that we were going to get back together.
Brenner: And why had Michelle moved there in the first place?
Meyer: Mainly to do voiceover with Brad Neely. He started using her in Austin, and he has one show on the air now, on Cartoon Network, and a couple others in development.
Brenner: Okay, and now it's been years since you first moved here, since you did Stillborn in a Trunk at FronteraFest and you and Matt started staging shows. And you've done a lot of things, a lot of groundbreaking things, a lot of things that – whether they were successful – which many of them were – or failures – which some of them might've been, in one guise or another –
Meyer: Yeah – the one you were in.
Brenner: Ha, yeah, Jesus. But all of these shows were very much talked about. And y'all progressed, you moved on to, well, not necessarily better things, but bigger and more complex things with each production. The amount of people you used, the things you had to take care of to stage the show ... So, after all these years – and, god, I know, this sounds so Bill Cosby or whatever – but what lessons have you learned? What have you learned about theatre that you didn't know before you got here?
Meyer: I don't know if I'm relaxed enough to answer this question.
Brenner: Okay, how about some Vicodin first?
[Editor's note: Vicodin.]
Meyer: I feel like I'd be totally bullshitting.
Brenner: Or, okay, instead, how about this: What were some high points and low points in what they call The Process of all these things?
Meyer: See, this is – this is a question I feel I really have to think about. Because I don't want to just tell you garbage. I don't know. I mean, the highlight of being in Austin, in being in the arts in Austin, is all the geniuses you get to be around all the time. You get to be in awe that these people know you on a first-name basis, you know?
Brenner: You said you can't imagine doing theatre in L.A., although you might get a lot of writing done there. But do you worry at all … that you don't know if you can survive with your sanity intact unless you are making some form of theatre?
Meyer: That's what I think will be interesting, because I'm sure those impulses will manifest in some way, but I don't know how they will. I haven't really processed the move at all. Having had Jubilee so close to the end, I think it's gonna feel like a vacation for a while.
Brenner: Do you think that you might eventually move back to Austin?
Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. I don't know when, but I feel sure I'll move back. And I'm going to be actively looking for excuses to come do things here. And it seems like a lot of people I know, a lot of my friends, are moving to L.A. soon, too. So that's softening the blow, too – there'll be some familiar faces. And then there's people who I know that'll absolutely still be doing their thing here if I come back in, like, twenty years. But I'll come back before then.
Brenner: What gives you hope for the future of theatre?
Meyer: [wrings hands, shakes head in frustration] Aaaah, these questions! I can't – I can't do this! This is, aaaaah, I need Kirk Lynn – call him in as relief!
Brenner: Oh, he'd be so good!
Meyer: Just the things he says, everything he writes. Did you see his "Thoughts on Collaboration" that was on Facebook this week? It was something he'd published somewhere – a numerical list of notes about collaborating and how to approach it or not approach it. I feel that he can just, in ten seconds, the genius just ... like, he'll respond to an email I send him? And I take, like, thirty minutes to write three sentences of an email sometimes. But Kirk can send me four paragraphs in, like, twenty seconds – and it's gold. I'm so jealous of his mind, you know?
Brenner: Okay, besides Kirk Lynn, what else gives you hope for the future of theatre?
Meyer: Okay, and this is self-serving, but we've been contacted by two people – one in Atlanta, one in Louisville, Kentucky – about doing Rubber Rep shows next year. So that's exciting.
Brenner: Like the Humana Festival?
Meyer: No, very young companies. This guy in Atlanta wants to do Casket of Passing Fancy, and then the guy in Louisville wants to do Biography of Physical Sensation.
Brenner: So you'll go and –
Meyer: No, they want to do them.
Brenner: Oh – oh, that's awesome!
Meyer: Yeah, and the guy in Louisville, he and his friends actually saw it here, and they want to do the Biography process with a whole new person, with us kind of coaching them a little bit. So that gives me hope.