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Our Stage Sage, Dame Drahm Aturg, will be pleased to answer any inquiries regarding any and all aspects of the theatrical world. Below is her answer to the first questions posed…

Dear Dame Drahm Aturg,

Can you explain the infamous ‘ghost light’  that theaters insist on burning at all times? Isn’t this just a waste of money in the service of an outdated superstition?

A.H. from Sommerville

Ah, my dears…

Sometimes superstitions are superstitions because they’re true, and this might be the case when it comes to that ghost light you mention. For the uninitiated among us, this steadfast illumination comes from a single bulb that theaters keep burning at all times, twenty-four-seven, even when the theater itself is otherwise abandoned.


Now, naysayers will tell you that this light is there for boring safety reasons—it prevents slips and falls in the dark, and the monstrous lawsuits therein—but Dame believes in the more supernatural explanation. Namely: there are real ghosts among us, darlings, and some of them have the same giddy yearnings for the stage that we flesh-and-blood mortals do.

As far as Dame knows, the ‘ghost light’ is positioned on stage to either draw the ghosts closer, or to keep them away. Popular thought is divided between those two options. Clearly, anyone who believes the latter hasn’t had much experience with otherworldly spirits—in Dame’s experience, they’re quite gentle souls. (Some suggest that if theater ghosts aren’t kept well-lit and happy, they’ll use their beyond-the-grave powers to spur horrific on-stage accidents during productions. That sounds like hogwash. Then again, what else explains the aptly named Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark?)

Reports from our sources vary.  Producer-Actor Frances McDormand tells us that….. Playwright Jez Butterworth recounts the raucous tale….

Oh darlings wish we could all gather together onstage and tell our tales and invite ghosts of the theater to join us.

One aside, though, for progressive-thinking theater directors: Put some more pizzazz into your ghost lights, people! The tradition for too long has been an unadorned bulb, naked and drab…as if the ghosts themselves have no regard or appreciation of interior decoration or lighting design! What about the undead aesthetes who flit across your stage at night, reenacting scenes from long forgotten dramas, yearning for a bit of class and flair? It wouldn’t kill you to take a trip to IKEA, after all.

Dame would love to hear her dear readers’ stories of ghostly encounters.  She has some of her own to tell….

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