Ali el-Gasseir likes to stay busy. A perfect schedule for this member of the Washington Ensemble Theatre team makes more ordinary mortals want to take a nap.
This month he divided his time between directing the complicated, multimedia premiere of Ed, Downloaded, the latest play in the company's 10th season as well as creating a new “Saturday morning adventure” for the Ensemble's younger audience.
“I love to make work,” said el-Gasseir. “Sitting around talking about creating it, not so much. That’s what I love about the Ensemble.”
The other things that el-Gassier loves about the Ensemble, where he is works as Lead Producer and Co-artistic Director, is the company’s willingness to tackle technically complicated projects like Ed on a shoestring budget.
“Ed is an awesome show design-wise. A fantastic date play with a tragically beautiful and hilarious story, but a challenge,” he said. “Still, if it is not exciting for designers, it is not for us.”
Michael Mitnick’s play is set in the near future where the “afterlife” can be a digital heaven of one’s favorite memories. The complicated script call for the production to be half-live action play and half-feature film.
“We were actually talking about another play [with Mitnick] when he shot me this script. It was an intimate story but highly technical,” el-Gasseir said, who considered the challenges similar to Robopop, the Ensemble’s 2010 wordless production about love in a time of killer robots.“I was the assassin robot in that one."
The production brings together many current and past Ensemble members, with Noah Benezra, Adria LaMorticella, and Gin Hammond featured in the play/film and designs by Brendan Patrick Hogan, Cameron Irwin, Chelsea Cook, Matt Holmes, Robert Aguilar, and Sonya Hachez.
At the same time, el-Gasseir returned to his Saturday morning adventures by co-scripting and performing in The Icelandic Illumination Rangers with Jonah Von Spreecken. In their latest spree, somebody has stolen the Aurora Borealis and the Rangers need to dance around magnetic poles, navigate the Reykjavik synth pop scene, and learn what it means to be friends.
El-Gassier call their collaboration “like early Bugs Bunny, fun and subversive,” with jokes that play differently for the kids and the adults. The shows, which are performed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, are highly popular in their largely residential neighborhood, where parents can walk to the Capitol Hill theater with their kids and then still have time for brunch at one of the nearby restaurants.
The ability to keep so much work going on the Ensemble’s tiny but mighty stage goes back to the folks who created the theater ten years ago, said el-Gassier. Like him, the original company members were interested in getting shows up and running, rather than just discussing how they might do something.
“They laid the foundation for this season,” he said. “For working with designers to create the highest level on lowest budget.
Ed, Downloaded opens tonight (Jan. 31) at the Ensemble and runs through Feb. 24. The Icelandic Illumination Rangers opens Feb. 1 and runs through Feb. 23 on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. There will be two late-night “blue” performances on Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 at 10:30 pm following Ed, Downloaded.
All Ensemble productions take place at The Little Theatre at 608 19th Avenue East in Seattle. For more information on their tenth season, check their website.