Destruction and trauma, but mostly synergy: an interview with Josh Boerman

For Decent Company April: beginnings & endings, Josh Boerman will be performing a piece about a man named Geoff, a tech wunderkind whose life is about to change irrevocably. Company member A.J. Ditty sat down with Josh to find out what makes both Geoff and Josh tick.

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A.J. DITTY: So here we are. You are artistic director of Decent Company.

JOSH BOERMAN: I am that.

AD: And now you’re stepping into the role of actor.

JB: I am doing that as well, yes.

AD: For the first time in a long, long time.

JB: Quite a while.

AD: How you feelin’? How do you feel about that?

JB: I mean, I feel good. We just had our work in progress presentation today, in which you were in attendance, and it feels exciting to sort of exercise those muscles that I haven’t used in a while.

AD: Sure. When was the last time you did use those muscles?

JB: It was college. So—

AD: What was the last production?

JB: The last full production was in, I believe, my junior year of college. It was called Backborn, it was a depressing play about the Holocaust. It was written by a guy named Andras Visky, and he is the Hungarian national playwright of Romania. He is Hungarian, he lives in Romania. He is one of the artistic directors of the Hungarian National Theatre in Cluj. And he’s a very strange, abstract playwright.

AD: Would you say that doing that show drove you from acting, or was it more along the lines of you just didn’t have a desire to pursue it after college?

JB: (LAUGHS) Well, it had a lot more to do with the fact that I realized that when I was acting, more often than not, rather than being present and being in the moment and sort of internalizing everything that was happening around me, I would be looking and being like, “That light is focused here. Why is it there? Shouldn’t it be there instead? Also, why is that actor saying the line this way? He should probably be saying it in this way.” But you can’t exactly walk up to another actor and tell them that they’re saying their lines wrong.

AD: Not if you value your life.

JB: No.

AD: So, that’s fascinating. Have you found a way to quiet those impulses then, or—

JB: Which impulses?

AD: The impulses to, like, the lighting and all that other stuff.

JB: For Decent Company, you mean?

AD: Yeah, for this particular play.

JB: Right. Yes, because it is a smaller, more short-term project. And also, I’m working with Dave Monteagudo, and I totally trust his direction. And it’s that kind of a thing where I’m willing to put my faith in somebody else.

As somebody who is normally a director and is used to having a high level of creative control, it’s kind of scary to throw that aside for a while, but at the same time it’s fulfilling to just say, “All of this stuff, I’m not gonna worry about it. I’m gonna trust you, that you know what you’re doing, and I’m gonna focus on making this the best performance it can possibly be.”

AD: It’s gotta be a lot of weight off your shoulders, then.

JB: I guess so, yeah.

AD: So you’re free to cry on stage, and—

JB: Exactly, just violently sob. (LAUGHS)

AD: I mean, and it’s— this isn’t, you know, not only your first foray into acting in a long time, but writing your solo show. Is this your first one that you’ve ever—

JB: First solo piece, yeah.

AD: Yeah. So what was the process of writing it like? Write something that you were like, “Oh god, I’m gonna eventually have to say this and make this work.”

JB: Right. Well, a big part of it is the show is inspired by a lot of things, but primarily it’s grounded in a character that is very much myself in a lot of ways. And just sort of a very strange, elevated version of myself, if I had no filter and created a super duper best selling app when I was 18.

AD: Right.

JB: None of which is true, but I can imagine that world. And also, from having seen accounts of what other people are like, and from having also seen some people who I know who are in roles like that as well, you know, people who I went to high school with, went to college with, they’ve probably handled those responsibilities a whole lot better than I would have, honestly. (LAUGHS)

AD: Huh. Wow.

JB: In some cases. Not in all cases.

AD: Oh no, absolutely. Well, here’s actually a really good one. Let’s give the people at home a little bit of a synopsis, a little bit of a taste of what the show’s about. Because I know who Geoff is.

JB: Yes.

AD: But your average reader of the blog might—

JB: They certainly don’t. Geoff is a 25, 26-year-old guy. When he was in college, he programmed an app that made a lot of money very quickly, and was basically the cornerstone of a huge business. Now, he is in a meeting which, he doesn’t realize it yet, but in this meeting he is about to fight for his life.

AD: Great. That’s a hell of a teaser. Well, and also, it deals with a lot of the tech industry, which I know you actually are kind of fascinated by. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that?

JB: I find the current tech bubble fascinating. Partially because it is just so obviously unsustainable, and yet people still are continuing to buy into it. San Francisco is now even more unaffordable than Manhattan. Neighborhoods—

AD: Which is saying something.

JB: Yeah, which is saying something. Neighborhoods with decades of history are being wiped aside over the course— just completely wiped clean. All this history being totally destroyed over the course of just a few years.

And I’m interested in the way that the forces of capital are just so completely unstoppable sometimes, and oftentimes people end up getting trampled underfoot. And that’s actually something that I’m seeking to explore in this piece as well. Because Geoff, again, our protagonist in this piece, has made a lot of money by developing this app, being the CEO of his company. But because the forces of capitalism are what they are, sooner or later, they’re going to be circling around for him too.

AD: Yeah. And to happen at such a young age, that’s really kinda what struck me about the piece, is that, you know, he was a kid when he made this app. And now we give these literal children the keys to the kingdom.

JB: Right.

AD: And, you know, of course it’s not gonna sustain itself.

JB: Well, and he’s still a kid. That’s the thing. He’s still— because of the fact that he basically had, like, little to no experience actually transitioning into adulthood and was just surrounded by yes men telling him everything that he wanted to hear, he never had to go through any sort of real difficult figuring out, “what is my identity” kind of moments.

And those might be quiet things that he would, like, ask himself at night, maybe. But he never really had to experience, and I think a lot of these people never really have to experience, the sort of monumental events that force you to be like, “Who am I as a person, honestly?”

AD: Until it all comes crashing down on you.

JB: Well, and then you get— that’s another form of that monumental event. Just a much more traumatic one.

AD: Yeah. That we lovingly get to witness. So you would say that you are handling a lot more of the ending than the beginning portion of this evening?

JB: Yes, but it is about beginnings as well. It’s about the fact that this guy started something. And there was— the beginning, that moment of creation, is still so important and so integral to what his core beliefs are about this thing that he has built. He very much has sort of mythologized, I think, in his own mind this idea of who he is, and what this world is, and what this company is. And that’s another thing that people do, is they create mythologies around themselves.

AD: Well, I mean, you know, look no further than Steve Jobs, which— I mean, the relationship between Geoff and Brian, his college roommate, mirrors the Jobs and Wozniak relationship—

JB: Right. Right.

AD: —pretty much to a T.

JB: Yeah. Part of this was definitely inspired by Steve Jobs, who obviously, control was wrested from him of Apple when he was in, I think, his late 20s.

AD: Yeah, no. He was also really young.

JB: He was quite young.

AD: I mean, not as young as a lot of the tech startups are now, but–

JB: Right. He was still a young guy.

AD: I know so little about the technology world, but to see a play that sort of deals exclusively in it, ’cause there’s so much technobabble in this play that all sounds completely plausible.

JB: Right.

AD: Whether or not it is, I think you know better than I do, but to think that there’s this entire world out there where all these tragedies and these big-time things can happen, it’s a very rich area for mining some good plays.

JB: And in reality, a lot of it all just ends up getting swept under the rug too. Because projecting an image of steadfast reliance and self-confidence and infallibility are so important to the mythology that’s at the core of what the tech world is all about, and honestly, what our world is about in general, you know?

You can’t admit that you have made a mistake. You can say, “Certain things didn’t align in the right way, and we went through an unfortunate bumpy patch during this year, but we have effectively restructured and now we are back on the correct trajectory.”

AD: Yeah.

JB: But you’ll never just say, “Yeah, I screwed up.”

AD: And how refreshing it is when people actually do say that.

Do you pity guys like Geoff? Do you—

JB: Yes.

AD: —do you empathize with them?

JB: Yes.

AD: Is there any part of you that– ’cause I mean, you know, I remember watching Steve Jobs and just thinking, “Who the fuck cares?” You know, this guy doesn’t do anything.

JB: And maybe part of that had to do with the fact that Steve Jobs, I didn’t see the film, but it was based on Walter Isaacson’s biography, which I have read some of. And that biography captured a whole lot of what made the man difficult and very little of what made him uniquely inspirational, if that’s the right word.

Because this is a guy who could command loyalty. Real loyalty. Not just, like, loyalty of, “You’re my boss, therefore I am loyal to you,” but actual people willing to go down with the ship with him. And I think you have to see all the sides of it in order to have a believable character. And hopefully, that’s what I’m accomplishing with this play.

AD: Well, I, for one, think you are. And I can’t wait for everybody to see it on April 18th. Okay, here’s a good one: what would Geoff’s slogan for Decent Company be?

JB: That’s funny.

AD: I swear to God, if you say “the wave of the future,” I’m going to lose my mind. (LAUGH)

JB: No, I was going to say something like “synergizing a better world” or something like that.

AD: Good. Decent Company: synergizing a better world, today. (LAUGHTER)

To buy tickets for Decent Company April: beginnings & endings, click here.

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