Hauntings

Last night I learned that in 1980, when Richard Hopkins first took over as artistic director of FST he learned that several of the staff members had experienced a supernatural presence in the Keating Theatre. Soon, he too was feeling something, so he hired some “priestesses” to exorcize the theater.

According to the Sarasota Harold Tribune:

Hopkins laughed when asked if this expenditure had been approved by the board of directors. “I think it was an executive decision,” he said.

(Read the whole article here.)

I have to say I am a tad disappointed the ghosts got exorcized. But I am not surprised that they were purportedly there to begin with. This is certainly not the first “haunted” theater I’ve heard of or even worked in.  At the gorgeous Fulton Theatre in Lancaster the literary manager will give you a fantastic after hours ghost tour—weeping statues, orbs, the whole bit. It’s very spooky.

What an odd recurring trend. What is it about theaters in particular that leads us to believe them to be haunted?

Well, they are often big old buildings that empty out at night—lending themselves to spooky draughts. They are staffed by imaginative (and dramatic) people pursing careers in which much feels up to luck and chance (leading perhaps to a predisposition towards superstition).  They are patronized by an audience eager to abandon their disbelief for a few hours, an audience primed to imagine and believe.

But perhaps more than that, they are sites of conjuring—the conjuring of characters, the telling of stories old and new. They echo with performances past. Or maybe it is the ephemerality of the theatrical event mirroring the ephemerality of our lives that makes the ghosts feel present? That plays are somehow both real and unreal. The same is true of the actors’ task—they straddle identities, getting lost or disguising themselves in one while being undeniably tied to another.  Somehow onstage actors seem to be neither fully themselves nor fully their characters—there is a liminality to their identity as they perform. And what is more liminal than a ghost?

Or perhaps it’s that the whole spectrum of life’s experiences get played out on the stage—the tremendous joy and pathos, the big and small events, the countless tales of lives changed—and these performances, as memorable and arresting as they may be in the present moment, simultaneously unearth memories of the spectators’ lives and experiences (not to mention the memories of previous performances the spectators have seen). So much passes through a theater, but nothing stays for long. I’ve always thought that there is something mystical about a highly trafficked place, especially a place where so much is said and felt and exchanged.

Especially if that place has no windows.

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