In honor of Halloween, I thought I would recount my interactions with theater ghosts throughout my career. First off, I am a believer that some forms of ghosts do exist. All you have to do is sit in a church or a theater and feel the energy from the crowd to know that emotional energy is very tangible. And since they say energy cannot be destroyed, I don’t think it is farfetched to believe that some form of that energy remains in a place and can sometimes be experienced physically.
When I was young and working at the Sacramento Music Circus tent theater, we were doing a production of Camelot. Since it was summer stock with “star” casting, John Gray was King Arthur, Anne Jeffreys was Guinevere and Harve Presnell was Lancelot. Even though this was a long time ago, it was still probably the oldest cast to ever play those roles!
There is a scene in the show when Lancelot supposedly brings a fallen knight back to life. Now Harve Presnell was known best for playing light-hearted roles, but one evening when I was standing at the rear of the audience’s seats and Harve played that scene I swear I could feel the waves of emotion pouring from the audience. It was as real and physical as if I was in the ocean feeling the waves roll over me. It was really something.
Another time when I was stage managing Juliet Prowse’s show, we were on tour in Australia. One evening we were loading into a beautiful, hundred year old opera house in either Adelaide or Melbourne. I wanted to check out the acoustics of the house so I worked my way from backstage through the dressing rooms up to the top balcony. It was pretty cool how well I could hear the crew’s voices all the way up in the rear of that balcony.
As I worked my way from the balcony, I went down the front stair cases through the theater lobbies. Most of the lights were out but I was able to feel my way along with the help of the hand rails. Off to the side of one lobby I saw the lights on in a room and the shadows of a crew cleaning up in a kitchen. Along with that I heard the typical sounds of a kitchen clean up – the clanging of trays, voices and the sound of glasses being put away.
I called out a “hello” and suddenly the sounds ceased and the shadows disappeared. All of the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I hustled the rest of the way back to the stage. When I got to the stage, I mentioned to some of the crew that I saw the catering kitchen off the lobby. They all looked strangely at me and said what was I talking about? There was no kitchen up there. Yeesh! They must have thought “just another crazy Yank.”
I also worked for thirteen years at the Wells Theatre, a beautiful one hundred and five year old theater in Norfolk, VA. Over the years I heard many credible stories of the five different ghosts who haunt that theater. While I never personally experienced any of them specifically, there were many times when I was in there alone and I could definitely feel their presence.