Theatrical Provocateurs Rubber Repertory Return to Austin
Two of the best and oddest come back for their own good and ours
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
2:30PM, Fri. Sep. 20, 2019
Meyer & Hislope, Hislope & Meyer: They’re back and they’re bound to set something on fire.
Josh Meyer and Matt Hislope – that talented Mutt-and-Jeffish duo behind the Rubber Repertory theatre company whose theatrical provocations and audience-immersive events made Austin a more exciting place to be in the early 2000s – have finally, after an absence of six years, returned to our delightful, contentious, beautiful, overpriced, traffic-clogged, rapidly metastasizing, and still-undeniably-weird-in-parts city.
They’ve been here since July. They’ve got an apartment. They’ve secured gainful employment. They’re already in a theatrical production that’s making excellent use of their prodigious and varied skills.
How did this happen?
After leaving Austin at more or less the same time in 2013 … and then renting a former church in Lawrence, Kansas, and turning that space into a temporary artist colony called the Pilot Balloon House … and then Josh going to endure the working-actor grind in L.A. and Matt jetting overseas to be a cast member at Disneyland China … and then the both of them uncomfortably haunting Los Angeles after their enthusiasm for the modern ruins of Hollywood dissipated … what led them back to Texas, to Austin, to the local scene?
Matt Hislope: I just, uh … there ceased to be any reason for me to be in Los Angeles. And we, ah, wanted to get back to a place where we had a sense of community again. Which I know I felt like I was lacking.
Josh Meyer: I was kind of in the same place. A lot of the commercial work I’d been doing has gone non-union in the last few years, so that kind of dried up. I found myself working in a theme park, saying the same catchphrase about 500 times a day. It was a fascinating world to be in, for a year. And I always thought it was the kind of place where people would work on a more short-term basis as performers? But they have people who’ve been there decades. One of the other people playing my same character has been there since 1997. And they have Draculas on their fourth decade.
Matt: I also worked for theme parks, and I was working at a brand-new park – in China. But now, it’s a few years later, and I left, but it seemed that many people were sticking around.
Austin Chronicle: And then you moved to L.A., too. And L.A. didn’t work out for either of y’all …
Josh: Well, I wouldn’t say it didn’t work out.
Austin Chronicle: What had y’all been expecting, if anything, that you didn’t find?
Josh: I think I had the experience I wanted to have in L.A. I don’t know that I ever imagined spending the rest of my life there, but I liked living in a big, world-class city and experiencing the, well, you know, it’s a place that takes a long time to get to know. It’s very inexhaustible, and I loved exploring there for six years. And, while it lasted, I liked being able to support myself as an actor.
Matt: For me, the second round in Los Angeles, I really loved living there. But I gave myself a kind of deadline that I went way over. After my theme park experience in China, all my auditions for similar kinds of jobs were in L.A., and after going to those auditions – every single one of them – after a while it was quite clear that that was not going to work out. And, aside from that, there wasn’t any real reason for me to be there. And then, when Josh was thinking of getting out, there was no question that I would follow suit.
Austin Chronicle: And there was no other place y’all had in mind to go, except back to Austin?
Josh: We weren’t even sure about that. We booked two days to come here, to see if it felt welcoming to us again. We didn’t tell anyone we were thinking about moving back. And we’d heard how unaffordable it’d become for a lot of people. So we just weren’t sure … and we were looking at apartments way up in North Austin … and we said, “Let’s just drive through our old neighborhood and see …”
Matt: This place is literally a block from where we lived in 2007 and 2008. And about four blocks from where we lived in 2010, 2011. It’s kind of … our area.
Josh: And we found a great deal, and the only catch was a kind of “What’s behind Door Number Three?” situation: They couldn’t show us the apartment. The doors and windows were boarded up – something happened here that they would not elaborate on.
Austin Chronicle: In this apartment?
Josh: Yeah, and when we moved in, one mysterious detail: In Matt’s closet, there’s a locked gun safe, bolted to the floor.
Matt: And, aside from not having the combination to the safe, the knob that you’d use to open it? That’s been sawed off.
Josh: We need to get Thomas Graves over here to, somehow, break into it.
Austin Chronicle: Thomas Graves … knows how to break safes?
Josh: I just feel that might be in his skill set. You know, along with welding, and –
Matt: I could see him coming over with a big mask, and –
Austin Chronicle: Like James Caan in Thief … ?
Austin Chronicle: How did y’all get roped into Plano?
Josh: I think that, the day we moved here, I put something on Facebook that we’d moved back.
Josh: And Dustin emailed us right away.
Matt: It was instant – he sent us a script, told us what parts he had in mind for us, and –
Josh: And we felt, “Okay, we’ve made the right choice in moving back to Austin.” Dustin invited us to do the show. Meeghan [Morongova] asked us to sit for a portrait. A couple other people asked us to be involved in things. It was like, “Oh my gosh, you can really work here.”
Austin Chronicle: How does Austin seem, six years later?
Josh: I feel a little bit like I’m walking around as a ghost. Like, I’ll go into Central Market and there’ll be the same people working there – they’ll just be older. A lot of that feeling all around. It’s not as different as I’d expect it to be, based on what people say.
Matt: Especially this neighborhood and nearby – it seems pretty shelf-stabled.
Austin Chronicle: What's the most striking difference you’ve noticed?
Josh: In the theatre and arts community, there are just so many people we don’t know.
Matt: We went to Sixty in 60 and kind of braced ourselves for sensory overload. And we said hi to a handful of people, then got in line to go in. And, looking around, we were like, “Oh – we don’t know anybody here.”
Austin Chronicle: Do y’all keep tabs on the Pilot Balloon House, since you left?
Josh: Yeah – an Academy Award-winner resides in it now.
Austin Chronicle: Oh yeah?
Austin Chronicle: And do you guys have plans to stay in Austin indefinitely? Or maybe do another Pilot Balloon-like experience?
Josh: I don’t know about Pilot Balloon, but we definitely want to make theatre in Austin again.
Austin Chronicle: Woo-hoooo, that’s great!
Josh: What we really wanted to do, we wanted to move back here without telling anyone. And we wanted to open a show on the very first day we got back into town. But –
Matt: Sadly –
Josh: We did not have the discipline.
Josh: But we’re working on a few things with very loose timelines. Just kind of letting ourselves settle in, and figure out work, and, ah –
Matt: Getting our lives in order.
Austin Chronicle: And y’all have found jobs already?
Josh: I’m in the sixth stage of an interview process for a content-writing job, for food-handling and workplace-safety materials. I have a two-and-a-half-hour final interview next week.
[Spoiler alert: He got the job.]
Matt: I’m currently working at Swedish Hill Bakery – where I get to wear a kind of lab coat. And, perhaps distressingly, one of my fellow employees tells me every day that I look like I’m on acid?
Austin Chronicle: Well, you kind of do.
Josh: Well – when you’re, like, amped up. I can see that.
Austin Chronicle: There’s something about your eyes. Even moreso than the last time I saw you. And maybe it’s also your much-smaller hair, but, yeah, Matt – you do seem like a fellow who’s on acid.
Matt: Okay, but –
Austin Chronicle: I mean, that’s not a bad thing.
Matt: Huh. Well, I trust your perceptions more than most, so …
Josh: You need to tell your co-worker that it’s been confirmed by an outside source.