February 14, 2013 in Mach's Musings

The Legend of the Ghost Light

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VP's Own Ghost Light --photo by Diane D'Agostino

For many visitors to the theatre, especially newcomers, there is some fascination with the “Ghost Light.” Almost every theater has one; it’s typically a solitary metal pole on a wheeled stand, with a single bare bulb at the top.  The light is plugged in on stage and glows when the rest of the theatre is dark.  As a solitary illuminating figure, it cuts an artistic presence and lends itself to being a thing of legend.

For the practical among us, it is merely a safety device that provides some light in a very large and very dark place.  Generally, it exists to spread enough initial light so that someone can find the lighting controls to turn on more lights. For those with a scientific bent, it represents homage to the early days of theatre when theatrical lighting was powered by gas and the “ghost light” was nothing more than the required “burn off” relief valve for the system. For the believers, the light presents a more spiritual side.

A stage can be a dangerous place, right? Especially if there is a pit in which to fall, or set pieces and hanging pipes in which to bump into in the dark. So a bit of illumination is a simple safety measure, isn’t it?

But what about that name, “ghost light.”  It immediately calls to mind the legend of the theater ghost. It’s common lore that almost every theatre has a resident ghost.  Think of the thousands of lost souls who have crossed a particular stage. Certainly one (or more!) of them would need to return to work out issues of their past lives.  Anyone who has found him or herself working on stage, late at night, in preparation for a show whose opening night has come all too quickly, has been stirred by the  unexplained bumps,  and sounds, and voices which only could be attributed to “the ghost.” Village Players’ own paranormal specialist, Dr. W. Crabbewinkle (*not his real name) swears that his paranormal investigations have revealed the presence of an active spirit world at the playhouse. When asked to identify these spirits, Dr. Crabbewinkle calls out the names of past presidents as well as the recently departed. “The psychic energy is strongest near the donor wall” he reports, “The meters go off the scale when this area is tested!”

But then again, according to scientists, ghosts are not real, but the product of easy explainable phenomenon, like drafts, or mere shadows elevated into reality by the susceptible. But science takes the romance and mystery out of everything! Imagine instead the mustachioed and hunched stage manager, closing up the theatre after another day of stars and songs… muttering softly to himself as he wheels the light to its cherished position, down stage center, a self-illuminating star in the center of the stage.  “Good night” he says… “Good night my dear little ghost. I’ll be back in the morning…” as a door closes silently, and mysteriously, behind him. –Gary Mach