A Transcript of Passing Fancy
Q&A with Rubber Repertory's Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer
Austin Chronicle: Tell me about this Evening of Forcefeeding you did in college.
Matt Hislope: It started out as a very, very small event that was just going to be held in one of the theatre building classrooms.
Josh Meyer: But then there was a preview article in the newspaper, and the way the show was described, some people called the chancellor of the university, alarmed, because they were worried that it was like a fraternity hazing event. Someone had died some years earlier or some weird thing. So the chancellor ordered paramedics to be on scene during the performance, which attracted so much attention that they moved us into a big theatre space.
Hislope: And that, of course, became fodder in the sort of opening spiel, sort of like William Castle: "And there are paramedics on hand, ladies and gentlemen!"
Meyer: So the show was these eight eaters; each person did two two-minute force-feedings; Matt and I were feeding them. The foods were chosen based on the people, what seemed to fit them the best or would look interesting with them eating these foods. And music selections were matched to those things as well. We had about 80 or a hundred pounds of food; the climax of the show was Matt and I stripped down to our underwear and tied up and fed everything that was left. But ... not much of it stayed down.
AC: How did you wrangle people into this? Just go and say, "Hey, you wanna be force-fed onstage for a while?"
Hislope: At the time it didn't seem all that difficult. We just asked people who we thought would be good eaters. We did fail the task of getting a good faculty eater. That was one place where we were sort of lacking.
Meyer: And we also asked people what they wanted to eat. Some people were like, "Oh, I'd love to do it if I can do bean burritos."
We figured the show would be the first in a series of pure actions. But we were never able to come up with other things that would have been satisfying.
Hislope: There was talk of An Evening of Haircuts, but it never happened.
Meyer: The Evening of Surgery and Childbirth Video we did in Austin years later was the closest in that line of thinking.
AC: Where are you guys from?
Hislope: I'm from Michigan, from a suburb of Flint. I was in something called the Midwest Exchange Program, but I don't think of Michigan as being very Midwestern. I always felt more Industrial Northeast.
Meyer: I'm from the suburbs of Kansas City – Oberlin Park, Kansas.
AC: What were your childhoods like, that maybe led to An Evening of Forcefeedings and the other, ah, strange things you've done?
Meyer: You should ask my mom that. Her favorite refrain is "How did you get to be so weird? I didn't raise a weird child! Why can't you be like a nice preppie or something?" People meet my parents and they're, like, stumped. It's a really nice family: Dad's an insurance agent; Mom paints miniatures for craft shows.
Hislope: My parents have always been very supportive. I've been surrounded by nothing but love.
Meyer: Well, your parents are theatre people.
Hislope: My first sort of love as a boy was martial arts, and then from that it was recommended that I start taking ballet lessons. So I was doing a lot of dance and from that got into more musical theatre things. And after I started doing theatre, my parents got heavily involved, and it culminated in my mother running the local costume shop. And my dad was president of a local troupe for many years. And they stayed very involved even after I left – it's become their whole social circle.
Meyer: And even with this show, the Casket, when we're stumped on a costume piece or a prop, Matt will just call his mom and see if she can find it in their vast storage.
Hislope: Yeah, she's had a good 95 percent of the weird things that I've asked her for. And she goes to the local Ginny's Hallmark and has them shipped here. They're great. My parents don't always understand certain of my impulses, but they've always been very supportive of everything I've wanted to do.
AC: So you presented your Evening of Forcefeeding, and that worked out well? It made you want to keep teaming up on things?
Meyer: What I loved about it was there were parties every weekend that someone in the theatre department was having. And we went to a party after that show, and the show had really caused a dialogue – people were talking about it, which didn't always happen with a lot of university theatre productions. So I think that's a little bit addictive, to be making theatre in front of people that's gonna, like, galvanize things.
Hislope: Just something that gets people excited about theatre and performance, and, ah, there was also just a sense that we should be creating things of our own, too. That we should not be depending on theatres to cast us in their shows.
Meyer: There's just such a thrill in creating something yourself and having no idea how people are going to respond when you put it in front of them. It's a kind of experiment. And always, in Kansas and in Austin, the audience shocks us with how accepting they are. We never set out to offend people or shock them, but when we're pushing the content in some of these shows, there's always this slight uneasiness of "Are we going too far here?" and "Is this gonna end poorly?"
Hislope: We're very quick to leap onto worst-case scenarios. We're very different about it, but we're both pretty high-strung people.
Meyer: I tend to bury anxiety and act like it's not there and try not to show any signs of it. And Matt's anxiety very much bursts out.
Hislope: I have a very childlike urge to make sure that everyone knows just how nervous I am. So we're very different backstage when we're preparing for a show in which we're both performing. I think it's safe to say that Josh does not like being around me backstage.
Meyer: That's correct.
Hislope: Because I'm a sort of wildly pacing, frenetic wreck –
Meyer: Red Bull-drinking –
Hislope: – with the constant concern that I won't be able to make it, that I won't be enough, that I will never ever make it through unless I, you know, do all this worrying beforehand.
Meyer: And I like to take a nap and then try to hold on to that naplike sleepiness until I go onstage – so I don't just freak out.