The Write Stuff: Steven Westdahl on the Package Deal, Only Shaving, Stripping When Paid
The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.
Steven Westdahl is an actor, writer, and producer who began a life in the theatre at the age of 9 with the Alameda Children's Musical Theater. He went on to graduate from Emory University with degrees in English and Theatre & Film. While in Atlanta, he co-founded multi-media production company Collective Works and co-created shows like The Wide Open Beaver Festival and The Invisible College. Since returning to CA in 2011, he hosts and performs monthly at Write Club SF and Shipwreck! as well as on the podcasts of the same name. He is a founding ensemble member of the SF Neo-Futurists as well as a playwright in the PlayGround competitive talent pool. His work has been seen in Indonesia and Russia, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The Second City Chicago, and onstage as an improvisor, standup comedian, clown, mime, puppeteer, DJ, musician, magician, singer, dancer, sideshow freak, and award winning competitive eater.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?
If I've just met them and am being polite, I will say "actor, writer, and producer." If someone asks about my "day job," I tell them I'm a hustler. Professional liar, sometimes. My dad likes to joke that I "act like I have a job."
In reality, I juggle a variety of income sources and expressive outlets. You might recognize me from the Men's Wearhouse online catalogue because I'm their resident plus-sized male model. Sometimes I put on silly costumes and run around San Francisco as a freelance employee of The Go Game's team-building scavenger hunt business. I've designed video game level maps for a start-up in Emeryville, got spaghetti thrown in my face for a Proctor & Gamble commercial, and still occasionally submit myself to drug trials and marketing research. I don't have a boss. I won't set an alarm clock when I don't have to. I only shave when someone pays me to shave. I consume art, food, and drink and produce art, shit, and piss. That's what I do.
What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?
A lack of structure and self-imposed deadlines. Left to my own devices, I'll start a dozen different things and finish 90% of all of them. I suffer from a bad case of 'out of sight, out of mind' and can be easily distracted.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Do it. Steal from me. Take the best parts of me, make them your own, and then show them off to anyone who will pay attention. But be warned. I've done a lot of things during the whole of "doing what I do" that you might not want to do. They are part of my package deal. Caveat emptor.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I think I have a few more marks in the Win column than the Loss one, yes. Success is ongoing. An upward trend. I do what I like doing and sometimes get paid a living wage for doing just that. I'm well-fed and mostly healthy. I'm not homeless. My dog loves me.
When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
I still can't believe that I helped make this pilot for Adult Swim. It didn't get picked up but we made it and it always makes me smile:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Ferdinand Westdahl (1843-1919), my great-great-grandfather, who left Sweden to travel to San Francisco and join the Coast and Geodetic Survey as a hydrographic and geodetic engineer. He helped make some of the country's first maps of the Pacific Coast, Alaska, and the Philippine Islands. There is a volcano in Alaska named after him. I hope to climb it one day. (That's the short answer. I've got a 7 minute piece that I wrote about him for WRITE CLUB SF. You can find it in our archive under East vs West.)
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.
I achieved the Eagle rank from the Boy Scouts. My wilderness survival merit badge memories just flared up. Cold. Wet. Hungry. I kicked open rotting logs and ate termite larvae for protein. It wasn't a week long but it felt like it. Because of that, I'm always prepared for the more comfortable type of camping and hiking that I do now. A mix of ocean and redwoods. Sleep under the stars if the weather is nice. Fishing if I can. I realize now that I've forgotten the edible plants of this region. Too much time away. Time to refresh my memory.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Ha! I'm the 2010 Air Sex World Champion. My penchant for competitive pornograhic pantomime is well documented. Additionally, my career as an actor has gotten me naked on stage in front of strangers in almost a dozen different shows. You want to see me striptease? Show me the money.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What's wrong with society today?
Systematized ignorance and misinformation. Materialism and distraction. Organized religion. Wealth disparity. Intolerance. Self-indulgence. Fatalism. Nihilism. YOLOism.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The birth of my child. The birth of my grandchild. Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I get turned on by a woman's pleasure and desire. I'm a big fan of cunnilingus and have been coached by some awesome past lovers. When it's come time, I get a bit non-verbal; a little beastial. Some lite bondage and gentle choking isn't out of the question. I was once told that I seem wired to fuck rather than make love. I agree.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I wouldn't mind getting some of the tech money that seems to be floating around. Maybe writing for a game designer or ad agency. I once met the guy who wrote the "great googly moogly" Snickers spot. He won a lot of awards for that. I admire a lot of work being written for the sequential graphic literature medium AKA comic books. I might have a superhero story in me.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
The high cost of living. I left Atlanta two years ago, where I was paying $600 for a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom house with a front and back yard on a cul-de-sac. Now I pay more than that in Oakland for a single bedroom in a shared basement apartment. If San Francisco wants artists to live there, it needs to be affordable. I was rejected from low-income artist housing last year for not making enough money, on paper, to cover the projected 4x monthly rent income metrics. That's just dumb.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
A night in the city: Dinner, a show, drinks, maybe dancing, then the midnight BART train back to Oakland because I hate the Nite Owl bus. A night on the Oak-town: Non-stop fun til the break of dawn. And then a bike ride home.
What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?
I watched all of The Cremaster films...
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Opening a non-profit art venue with a cafe, a gallery, a stage, a cinema, a bike shop, a library, a few studios, and a top floor apartment for me. Then I would run that for the rest of my life.
For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview conducted by Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.