Abe Koogler’s new play Blue Skies Process examines the professional dynamics of several co-workers during an unconventional business meeting. Shortly before beginning rehearsals, Koogler spoke with the play’s dramaturg, Jonathan L. Green, to discuss his inspirations for the play.
Jonathan L. Green: Several of your plays examine workspaces, with your characters trying to navigate personal relationships within a professional landscape. Blue Skies Process is set in a seemingly ultra-modern, well-funded start-up. What is it about these workspaces that interests you?
Abe Koogler: I love meetings. Or rather I hate being in meetings, but I love observing them and thinking about them as studies in human dynamics. They are barely concealed power struggles in which every human insecurity and vanity is on display. Anytime I say anything in [that setting], I’m mostly thinking about how I’m coming across and what role I’m playing in the room. And then maybe a third of my thinking is about what would actually be helpful to say. In a professional setting, you’re supposed to maintain a professional demeanor. But of course underneath that professional demeanor are all these unprofessional, baser thoughts and feelings. It’s always interesting to watch characters struggle with the conflict between their “real” self and the self they must project.
“I hate being in meetings, but I love observing them and thinking about them…They are barely concealed power struggles in which every human insecurity and vanity is on display.”
JLG: How long have you been working on Blue Skies Process? What led you to this story?
AK: I was reading a biography of Steve Jobs and thinking about the mythology that builds up around certain companies, and the way their founders become mythical figures. If you read about Job’s life, it has so many mythic elements: the fall from grace, the triumphant return, the life cut short. And of course he’s a mythic figure for a good reason. The iPhone has changed our posture, attention, even the way we walk. Decisions made in a conference room in Cupertino – about, say, the way to open an app, or the shape of the object as a whole – have had an outsized effect on human physiology and psychology. Reading about that company got me thinking about what it means to try and create something new, and to do so in collaboration with other people, which any theater professional will tell you can be incredibly irritating. So this is also a play about people who are very, very irritated with each other.
JLG: Your play also uses to great effect meaningless “corporate speak,” familiar to so many of us. You studied political science at Yale University and worked for a time as a political speech writer–another field rife with inspirational but meaningless language. Did your experience in politics inform your work on Blue Skies Process?
AK: After college, I worked on a campaign where part of my job was to write speeches and radio spots for the candidate. I loved doing it. There were a series of clichés that we used over and over again – “safe streets,” “working families,” “a better future for our kids” – shorthand that gestured at a system of values but really kind of meant nothing. I also worked for a while at a big test-prep company that was tanking. There were constant changes of leadership, and every Friday we’d receive these company-wide e-mails about the turnaround plan. It was called the “Triple Diamond” project or something, and it was incredibly complicated. To communicate what was happening there would be, like, pictures of circles with arrows coming in and out of them superimposed over a square with a line through it. And the picture would be titled something like “Synergestic Dynamics: Functions.” I always felt grateful not to be the one tasked with implementing the Triple Diamond plan.