Where there are theatres, there are ghosts. Following last year’s piece about theatrical apparitions, we heard from a new crop of folks with tales of paranormal encounters. We share their spooky stories here.
GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington, D.C.
The theatre, production manager Lena Salins explains, is located within the historic site of the old Tivoli Theatre, “which at the time it was built was the largest movie theatre in D.C. Our ghost is likely Harry Crandall, who created the theatre. The rumor is that he hung himself inside the Tivoli.”
How do they know ol’ Crandall is still around? “He will turn off the lights in the middle of meetings, sometimes he will create static in the speakers. He’s also been known to turn the thermostat all the way down. I’ve certainly heard him when locking up the building before. One of my painters said she saw him when she was doing an overnight paint call.”
Alley Theatre, Houston
A number of staffers in the organization have reported feeling “presences” or sensing figures breezing by them in or around the Hubbard Theatre. That venue, housed in the building the company has called home since 1968, has also been the setting of a number of spine-tingling encounters. Alley properties master Karin Rabe Vance recalls her own spooky experience when she was painting furniture in the Hubbard with another member of the creative team in 2006, late one night after a tech rehearsal for Black Comedy. “We were the only ones in the building, it was already a little eerie,” Vance notes. “We both kept seeing or sensing somebody in the back house left area, kind of in the back row.” But that presence wasn’t necessarily threatening, she explains; it was just someone watching them work. “I even ran up to make sure nobody was up there and came back down—and then we worked a lot faster.” Vance was hardly the first person to notice something unexplained in that part of the Hubbard. Late performer and Alley company member Bettye Fitzpatrick would tell collaborators about a female figure she’d notice seated in the back row of seats, observing rehearsals. Vance says that, upon hearing her story, Fitzpatrick replied, “I bet it was the same one! I bet it was the same spirit.”
Alley director of operations and events Dennis Draper—“He’s our ghost expert,” Vance says—has several tales to share. One is a recent experience that led two members of the housekeeping staff to quit. One Sunday night in 2013 after a performance of, appropriately enough, Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, the husband-and-wife team “witnessed a bloody female figure standing onstage,” and “screamed, ran out of the theatre, and apparently spooked my other housekeeper in the lobby, to the point that they left the building and did not come back.” He adds, “We investigated, of course there was nothing in the theatre, there was nobody here, but everybody that’s in the housekeeping department said they had been seeing things like somebody walking into the restrooms at night, assuming it was a staff member, but they never came out. So that when they went into the restrooms, there was just nobody there. I had several members that were very nervous after that and would refuse to clean anything by themselves.”
Irondale Ensemble Project, Brooklyn
“When people have stayed overnight, the sound of heavy boots walking in the capacious attic rumbles the ceiling,” says Terry Greiss, the company’s executive director. “We also have a storage room with a staircase that leads nowhere and often the temperature changes drastically there. Needless to say that while the boots are walking and the temp is dropping, no one explores further.”
Pittsburgh Playhouse at Point Park University
“The Lady in White haunts the Rauh Theatre,” says Kim Martin, the theatre’s producing director. “The story goes that back in the late ’20s, early ’30s when the Rauh Theatre was a German social club, a woman in her nightgown came looking for her wayward husband. He was discovered in the arms of another woman. The woman shot them both before turning the gun on herself.” How does this spirit manifest today? “A lady in a long white gown now paces the Rauh balcony, back and forth calling her dead husband’s name.”
Not only malevolent apparitions inhabit the space. “While the Lady in White is an unhappy entity,” Martin says, “John Johns is quite the opposite and frequently ‘visits’ the Rockwell Theatre.” She says Johns, an actor in the mid-20th century, was performing in a play at the Rockwell Theatre, costumed in a tuxedo, when he had a heart attack onstage and then died in one of the dressing rooms. “On nights when the theatre has no audience, he has been known to pop in many different theatre seats clapping for those rehearsing onstage.”
Stray Dog Theatre, St. Louis
The theatre’s home is Tower Grove Abbey, a three-story church dedicated in 1912. “A century-old building is not without its quirks,” explains actor Sarajane Alverson, “but those are usually related to things like plumbing, roof leaks, etc.” Alverson says she’d heard from others that the space might be haunted but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until she’d worked at the theatre for a while.
While rehearsing Stephen Peirick’s one-act The Cell Phone in 2016, Alverson, the other two actors, and the director—the four were alone in the building—“heard a loud noise from either the house or the lobby area, like someone dropped a stack of books or knocked over a chair,” Alverson recounts. After finishing the scene, they checked with each other to see if they all noticed the same sound and asked the director if he dropped something. He hadn’t. So they explored the rest of the abbey to make sure no one else was there, since the three-story structure makes it possible for people to be there without others knowing. “We again confirmed it was just the four of us that night, no one else was in the building,” Alverson says, “and the main doors were locked from the inside (as is typical during late, small rehearsals). We kind of stared at each other, then agreed rehearsal was over (it was nearly 10 p.m. anyway) and left together as a group, saying ‘good night’ to whatever was in the dark lobby.”
Then this past summer, Alverson was in the lobby with artistic director Gary F. Bell discussing where Bell would hang a plaque honoring the company’s longtime production manager, Jay V. Hall, who committed suicide in 2016. “Gary had said he didn’t necessarily want it right smack in the face in the front entrance,” Alverson recalls. “He said maybe near the second entrance, and gestured across the house to that entryway. Right then a loud bang! came from that part of the theatre, like a plaque or wall hanging being violently knocked to the ground. Except there isn’t anything hanging up in that area; it’s just wood paneling and tile on the floor.” She adds, “Gary and I had a brief moment of, ‘Are we going to acknowledge this just happened?’ And then we did, both looking that direction and saying, ‘Yes, Jay’ and ‘Thank you, Jay.’”
Creede Repertory Theatre, Colorado
“Given that our town was a pretty dangerous place in the 1890s, it’s no surprise that it has quite a colorful ghost history,” observes Jessica Jackson, the company’s artistic director. “Creede Rep’s MainStage started as a 1930s movie theatre built by a mining company to keep the miners out of trouble. Over the decades, it has gone through many renovations and transformations. The third floor, with its bizarre layout and old beams, is an area where many company members, especially stage managers finishing paperwork after shows, have reported encounters. Footsteps, cold spots, whispering…the usual ghostly behavior.”
Performer Annie Butler had encountered apparitions multiple times while working at Creede Rep. The most notable experience took place in 2006, during the run of The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Jesse James, a play set in Creede during the days of the Old West. “Very stupidly, before opening night,” Butler says, “I went out on the bridge behind the theatre over the flume of water and requested, ‘Spirits of Creede join me onstage’ or something close to that. Long story short: One followed me home and severely haunted me for long enough, I slept in my truck, and later called in our ghost buster.” The ghost hunter “told me she thought no one was there, till she was leaving and felt something in the bathroom. She said she flung open the shower curtain and felt the spirit of a man hiding in there. She said he didn’t want to leave. She released him. I’ve been haunted there since.”
Have a theatrical ghost story we didn’t include? Email the author with the subject line “Theatre ghosts” or leave a comment below.