Two days before the opening of The Things Are Against Us, three ghost hunters sat with members of Washington Ensemble Theater in the lobby of the 12th Avenue Arts building and exchanged ghost stories. Ensemble member Ali el-Gasseir told the story of a late-night make-out session that was interrupted by the appearance of a few ghostly figures who ended up being less ghostly than first thought.
“They were daughters of the Confederacy, all wearing wigs and powder, and they were inviting us to their re-enactment,” he said, laughing. “They really wanted us to join.”
Ross Allison, the founder of the Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma, had a different kind of ghost story. This one took place on the campus of St. Louis University, the site, he told the rapt circle, of the case that inspired the 1971 William Peter Blatty book The Exorcist. He was leading a group of curious students up to the fourth floor of a building where at least one of the case’s numerous exorcisms took place. Upon stepping into one of the rooms, he heard a crunch. He looked down to find a dead bird beneath his foot.
“That wasn’t a big deal,” Allison said, relating that dead birds were common in the derelict buildings that AGHOST has investigated in the decade and a half since its founding. “Then we turned the lights on and saw dozens and dozens of dead birds in there. The strange thing was that all the doors had been removed in that room. It’s not like those birds couldn’t have escaped.”
Ten minutes later, the entire group was on the other side of the theater doors, taking in another ghost story—Susan Soon He Stanton’s dark and haunted comedy, which was in technical rehearsals as WET prepared the work’s premiere. The investigators from AGHOST were brought in as advisors to help WET get the haunted part right. Bottles of water were handed out and then the play unfurled, telling the story of the lovelorn Spreckle sisters, an exotic stranger with a dark family secret, a time-traveling suit, and the very, very cranky house that frames the entire affair. Near the end of the first act, as the unnerving narrative begins to come together and the sanity of its protagonists begins to unravel, the house is brought to life through canny stagecraft. A disembodied voice bellows from the rafters: “It is wrong to hate a house!”
The lights come up and the crew begins tweaking the set and taking notes. Allison turns to his cohorts. “It’s awesome,” he says. “Hunting would be a lot more fun if that’s the way it really happened.” 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., 325-5105, washingtonensemble.org. Ends May 16.