Dallas — Zeb L. West straddles two worlds. He works as a video game designer in a small indie studio by day and by night he performs in the very analogue world of live theatre.
A transplant to Austin, Texas from California, by way of Brooklyn, West’s current solo show Innocent When You Dream will be featured at the 2014 Dallas Solo Fest, playing at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. The festival plays May 15-25; Innocent When you Dream plays May 22-25.
“I was often babysat by things like ‘70s sitcoms and video games. I can remember the first time I had my own game system [an Atari] and I felt like each cartridge or disk was a little universe I could inhabit,” says West.
As a kid, he was withdrawn. “I was the type of kid who wore a trench coat and hung out in the library with the other freaks and geeks—reading AD&D campaigns and drawing dungeons on graph paper,” he says.
In junior high he stumbled into a theatre class and the introverted outsider was hooked.
“I now had a focus for my energy, something I was good at, and a place to channel what could have been reckless and destructive young energy,” says West.
After studying traditional theatre, such as the works of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, West grew restless and wanted more. He went on to study at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California.
“The thing you study the most at Dell'Arte is yourself. Everything is set up to confront you with your limitations—physically, mentally, collaboratively,” he says.
He stayed interested in video games as well and eventually found himself in Austin because of the relatively inexpensive cost of living and the creative environment. He was hired on at several large video game design studios. He was part of the team behind Star Wars: The Old Republic, one of the largest games ever created.
“Working on large projects with diverse teams and huge budgets is great experience, but can lead to feeling disempowered and compartmentalized,” says West. He teamed up with some friends and co-workers to found a smaller, more personal studio they called Binary Solo.
With his game design career going well, a few years ago West experienced a harsh and unexpected break-up. He headed to Canada on a road trip to clear his head and saw a number of shows at the Canadian Fringe festivals. He also listened to audio books on that trip, particularly Moby-Dick and Don Quixote.
“These two delusional romantic characters of Quixote and Ahab were great metaphors for how I felt about this heartbreak—as if I had decided to live inside a delusion instead of facing a hard truth—like Ahab's very personal revenge fantasy with the whale for taking his leg, or Quixote's viewing a peasant girl as a princess in Dulcinea,” says West “That's when I started thinking about doing a one-man show on the Canadian Fringe Circuit about heart break from the point of view of a man trapped inside a whale with only those two books to read.”
The show became Innocent When You Dream, which West has performed it all over the North America.
“The two worlds I've been living in recently are puppetry and video games—I'd like to find some way to smash these worlds together to create something interesting,” West says about straddling both his past times of video games and live performance, “It's not really a plan with a clear road map or an obvious next step, but I've always been a bit of a rambler.”
» Innocent When You Dream is performed at the following times:
- Thursday, May 22, 9 p.m.
- Saturday, May 24, 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, May 25, 3:30 p.m.
» To see a full festival schedule, go here