by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
In the today’s tech-driven world, the digitization of memories has become a normal part of everyday life. Social media and smartphones let people log every trip to the bar with photos, check-ins and Tweets. But with the advance of technology comes the realization that the imprint that we leave on the Internet today could be a stepping stone to digital immortality – a time when technology will not just provide shorthand retelling of our memories, but become a conduit for containing them in their entirety.
That increasingly possible world is explored “Ed, Downloaded,” the new production by Washington Ensemble Theatre written by Michael Mitnick and directed by Ali el-Gasseir, which finds a world where anyone can download their memories into a database known as a “Forevertery.” With this costly investment, people are able to re-live their lives for eternity, granting them a 21st century version of immortality.
“The play is about someone’s memories being downloaded into a computer so they can live for eternity in this digital heaven,” el-Gasseir said. “It’s essentially Ed’s top 10 memories, and what we’re seeing are those memories getting edited and distorted. A lot happens to them over the course of the play, and the actors are interacting with the memories on stage.”
As today’s digital world gives new opportunities for someone to glimpse into the lives of others, “Ed, Downloaded” shows that digital immortality comes with the price of leaving the contents of one’s own mind on display.
The play begins with the eponymous Ed, the long-time romantic partner of the authoritative Selene, falling for a fun-loving, free-spirited girl named Ruby. But what would otherwise be a simple love triangle takes new form as Ed departs the stage and takes his place in the Forevertery, which just so happens to be run by Selene. As a result, Selene and Ruby soon square off to see who holds a more important place in Ed’s mind as they parse through the memories.
Just as anyone who’s ever read the diary of a loved one knows, the glimpse into the thoughts of a romantic partner often leave you with more information than you bargained for. “Ed, Downloaded” then delves into the question of what love is, and what should be trusted when it comes to our own memories.
“It’s a show of great technological machination, but really, it’s about love,” el-Gasseir said. “It asks what kind of love is better: sexy, passionate, romantic love, or love that lasts a lifetime and is built on respect and commitment. It pits the two against each other in the world of memory, essentially looking through someone’s brain in a box.”
As is expected with a technology-centric play, the production goes beyond the stage by blending live action with a feature film that helps portray the memories of Ed. The feature film itself was created entirely by WET for the production, a task that el-Gasseir said required more meticulous planning than anything else they’ve ever done. The play seamlessly blends the two mediums together to provide a unique approach to storytelling. According to el-Gasseir, it’s a style of theatre that is becoming more commonplace, and one that easily fits into WET’s mission statement of providing innovative stories to Capitol Hill.
“WET’s always had this sort of aesthetic with really exciting design work happening with our plays, especially for how small our budgets are and how intimate our theatre is,” el-Gasseir said. “This is that kind of show that can be done in an intimate way but is a really high-design concept show. It’s very tech-savy; two projectors are always going on, live microphones are doing all sorts of interesting stuff. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s something we’ll be doing a lot more of in the future. WET is totally capable of handling multimedia work and exploring this new frontier of theatre.”
All in all, el-Gasseir says that the play’s message is one that anyone in a romantic partnership can identify with, and is one of the better outings one can have on Capitol Hill.
“It’s a perfect date play… it’s an awesome show to take your partner to while out on the town, especially with the growth of 19th Avenue. You can go out to Kingfish and then come to our show and have an awesome night. It’s romantic, it’s funny, and it’s terribly touching all at the same time.”
“Ed, Downloaded” runs from January 31 to February 24 at Washington Ensemble Theatre (608 19th Avenue East). General admission is $20, and a $15 admission is available to students and seniors.