Monday, August 19, 2013

The Question... Zeb L. West (Innocent When You Dream, Fringe: Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver)

Wrestling With Notions of Love
by Estelle Rosen

Zeb L. West is a writer, performer, and director currently living in Austin, TX. He is a member of Austin’s Trouble Puppet Theatre Company, and Brooklyn’s Alphabet Arts. He graduated from The Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in Northern California, where he studied Commedia Dell’Arte, Clown, Mask­making, Tango, Tumbling and Corporeal Mime. Prior to that, he received his undergrad degree at San Francisco State, studying Suzuki with Yuki Goto and Shakespeare with Bill Peters. In the past 15 years, Mr. West has worked in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and Austin and toured nationally performing with masks and puppets.

CHARPO: As a Graduate from The Dell'Arte School of Physical theatre, it's no surprise that your show encompasses clowning and puppetry! How would you describe/pitch Innocent When You Dream? I would also be interested to know about the experience of participating in several Fringes including Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and how the experience will impact on the upcoming Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria Fringes.

WEST: Can you think of that one person you loved so much that just didn't love you back?  It probably still hurts to think about them.  You cracked open your chest so wide, holding your ribcage open with both hands, bare heart exposed, your goofy-eyed face radiating innocent adoration.  And all of a sudden they told you it was over.
Innocent When You Dream is about what you do in the moments just after that.  Where you must traverse the stages of grief, and ultimately decide whether it’s worth it to risk that hurt and try to love again.  Or stay in that stuck place of fear, doubt, and anguish.

The play takes place inside the belly of a whale, where you meet a heartbroken castaway named Jonah.  He wakes up to discover the audience and assumes they have been swallowed as well.  We soon realize he's been driven mad by reading the only two books he has down here over and over again, Moby Dick and Don Quixote. 
He begins to act out the books for the audience, using puppets, masks and set pieces fashioned out of ship flotsam and detritus from the ocean floor.  Wrestling with notions of romantic love as embodied by these two epic literary characters, Don Quixote and Captain Ahab, Jonah applies the story of his own heartbreak to these two novels. He imagines Ahab is in love with the whale, desperate to get her back.  He questions the idealistic chaste love that Quixote feels for his imaginary love Dulcinea.  And through these delusional characters, he has to face his own doubts about whether his love was even real.
As a performer with a physical theatre background, I’ve always gravitated towards puppets and masks, because they have this mysterious symbolic quality that taps right into the audience’s desire to make-believe.  Somehow audiences suspend their disbelief quicker, offer up their imaginations more readily, and invest their hearts more enthusiastically.  Plus I find I’m more unlocked, have access to a larger size of acting, and freer playfulness when I channel the character through an inanimate object, so really it’s a win-win.
This is my first Canadian Fringe tour, and I’ve never performed a full hour-long one-man show before, so I’m attempting to fail big and faceplant directly into things I don’t know how to do.  Creating and performing the show are the skills I can really lean on, but all the additional promotional work (which gets people to actually see the show) is new to me.  I’m trying to be a sponge right now, and absorb all the good advice, experience and warnings of the veteran touring artists I’ve met – it’s wonderful seeing the same folks at multiple festivals and hearing about their ups and downs, and feeling so lucky that we got to travel and tell stories.
A lot of performers are sort of introverted extroverts, meaning that they seem extroverted because they perform on the stage, but they can often be shy about meeting new people.  I’m one of those types, so I have to psych myself up to go tell people that I’ve got a show where I attempt to speak my truth, and that they should come see it.  That direct person to person interaction is the heart of the Fßringe in my opinion, because it’s what really allows these festivals to contribute to and affect the community.  After a little self pep-talk, I’m (usually) able to summon my courage and get out there to meet people and tell them about the show, and it’s always rewarding (even if it’s not their cup of tea).  It fills me with gratitude, getting to share my experience of the world with folks who have felt the same, and who can revel with me in the sublime and brutal ass-kicking of a really thorough heartbreak.

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