Each Halloween since 2016, we’ve done the hard work of reporting on ghostly experiences at theatres all across North America so you won’t have to. Now you’re free to curl up with a ghoul you love, and take in another compendium of spooky tales that may make you think twice about spending a late night at the theatre.
Sacred Fools Theater Company, Los Angeles
“It started with the first day I was in, where I was absolutely the only person in the building, and I heard someone say hello and then goodbye,” recounts production manager Heatherlynn Gonzalez, describing her initial experience in the company’s current space on the day the theatre company Sacred Fools acquired the building. “I was the only person available to go pick up the keys. I did, and was literally verbally welcomed by its residents.”
Gonzalez continues, “Most people who have built sets or done late-night tech in our largest space, including myself, have heard what sounds like someone pounding on the wooden roll-up garage door we have covering the entrance to the lobby.” When they hear these noises, she observes, individuals outside confirm nobody else is there, or when they go outside to check no one is there. She also says that in her office and in the bar in the building, “Things have flown/fallen off of shelves in a manner that looks like it was thrown from the shelf.” and it seems clear that more than gravity was involved. In addition, Gonzalez says, “When I’m sitting at my desk, particularly late at night, there are often noises in the hallway outside of my office, as well as things that were on top of cabinets, which roll past my door as if pulled off the cabinet and thrown.”
Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, New Orleans
Alex Smith, now technical director at fellow Crescent City company Southern Rep Theatre, says his experiences in the same role at Le Petit Théâtre differed greatly from his time in Southern Rep’s new space, which, “built from the hearty bones of a Catholic church, has yet to produce anything spookier than a leaky roof and an ice machine with indigestion.”
In 2012, during his stint at Le Petit, Smith says he’d heard claims that the theatre was haunted, including the tale of a performer who, rejected by the production’s leading man, “threw herself from the catwalks, got caught by a rope from the fly system on her way down,” and died. However, he says, “Not much of a believer in the ghostly apparitions, I never paid much heed to the tales of the much-haunted ‘Little Theatre in the Quarter.’”
That all changed one night, close to 3 a.m. “I found myself, as many T.D.s do, alone in the theatre working on the stage, preparing for the next big production, burning the midnight oil, and dipping into the mid-morning oil with IOUs and promises to restock some time after opening night.”
Smith points out that the French Quarter is rarely quiet. “Even deep in the bowels of the theatre, at peak times revelry and horse carts, buskers, and tourists can be heard at least faintly pushing through the oldest walls in the city. On this night, however, the space was quiet. Peaceful. Perfect for drilling away at my current task. Even the music I’d been playing on the sound system had died down, Queen’s Greatest Hits exhausting itself as the final guitar strum reverberated across the stage.”
Soon after the last strains of “We Are the Champions” had faded, Smith says he was facing the stage from the edge of the apron, with his back to the house. “With no warning, a loud swoosh was heard from the stage right leg curtain, and it fluttered just like something was rapidly sliding down it, jerking near the bottom and waving about as if someone was shaking up against it. Nearly as quickly as it started, the curtain became calm, swinging from upstage to downstage like a lazy pendulum from near its base, till it settled finally on its own, as if nothing untoward had occurred.”
“Hello?!” he called out, his voice shaking “from the injection of adrenaline I’d just been dosed with.” He shouted the names of the few others with keys to the building—he doubted that someone would stop in at that hour on a weeknight with an early call the next day, but there was no other explanation. “Slowly I made my way to the center of the stage, eyes locked on the now quiescent curtain, hoping against hope to see someone putzing about or staged behind the curtain, ready to laugh at my reaction, combined with a hearty back slap and a, ‘Go home, Alex!’ Nothing.”
He continues, “On profile now with the errant velour, looking directly stage right at it, I took a quick glance to see if the air conditioning could cause such calamitous careening from the curtain.” The air conditioning was off. “Nothing had fallen from the defunct catwalk, nor the batten the leg was hung from. As I dared to get closer, now slightly more cautious than a moment before, I started to hear the sound again. Right in front of me! The billow began its fateful trip down the inky black, inherently flame-retardant fabric, almost frenzied this time.”
At that point Smith dropped his work, raced out of the theatre, “swore not to work in that place alone at night again, and dodged the foot traffic on Bourbon and Chartres Streets on my bike all at the same time and before the cursed ghost of showmances past could complete the reenactment of her fateful fall.”
“Le Petit may very well not be haunted,” Smith admits. “I’m also still on the fence about the paranormal. However, I can’t explain what I experienced that night, and darned if anyone else can either!”
Triad Stage, Greensboro, N.C.
When playwright and dramaturg Kamilah Bush, now artistic assistant at Red Bank, N.J.’s Two River Theater, began her artistic apprenticeship with Triad Stage in 2016, in passing she was informed that the building was haunted. “As a naturally cynical and logical person,” she says, “I didn’t believe a word.” She explains that Triad Stage operates out of a former Montgomery Ward department store constructed in 1936, which was abandoned for almost four decades before the company moved in. “So despite my skepticism, even I had to admit that if any place had ghosts, this would be it.”
After working alone in the theatre late one night—“a dramaturg’s job is never done,” she quips—she went to leave, taking the elevator to the third floor. She says she was certain no one else was in the building and she “saw that the hallway was dark and empty, but as I stepped off the elevator, I heard jazz music and a clear, loud whistling and felt someone standing in the doorway of the UpStage Cabaret behind me. Shocked that anyone might be there, I turned around and found that I was alone. The jaunty jazz tune stopped abruptly, and the feeling of another presence seemed to lessen.” She looked inside the elevator, thinking someone might have gotten in behind her and she just happened not to notice them. “The doors opened, and the elevator was empty. I decided to quickly leave, chalking it up to tiredness.” She figured she was probably just hearing things.
Triad Stage facilities/rentals manager Bobby Pittman had a similar encounter, an experience he calls the “Case of the Whistling Ghost.” He notes that often he leaves at midnight or shortly after, and on “this specific night I was going through the space locking doors, turning off equipment and lights, when I hear someone/something whistling in our back stairwell.” He mentions that the “building is 70-plus years old, and the stairwells are hoary, dim, and caliginous.” He recalls, “I go to where I hear the whistling coming from and shout out, ‘Hello.’ I walk the complete stairwell top to bottom still hearing the whistling,” yet he found “nothing, no one… It eventually subsided roughly 10 minutes later.”
A few weeks after Bush’s incident, again she was alone at the theatre, this time on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and she says she “wasn’t at all afraid.” After a while, Pittman joined her in the administrative office on the second floor. Pittman says, “I overhear music, talking, and chairs being lumbered around. and I lean over and ask Kam, ‘Who’s in the cabaret?’”
Bush remembers Pittman checking his calendar, noting that no one should be up there. Pittman says that other staffers will frequently hold events or meetings that aren’t on the official schedule, so it was entirely possible that’s what was going on. “Heading upstairs to check out the scene,” he says, he opened the door to the cabaret and found “pitch black…utter silence.” He returned to the office on the second floor and reported to Bush that no one was there. “We pay no attention, go back to working, when several minutes later we hear it again but more lurid this time. Thinking we both cannot be this irrational, Kam and I run upstairs only to see the UpStage Cabaret once again empty, dark, and silent.” Bush confirms, “The room was dark. The chairs and tables were set. The space was empty.” Pittman adds that they left soon after.
Bush says they then “told the rest of the staff about our encounter, and folks who had been around longer shrugged. They’d all had similar experiences. Some of my newer colleagues didn’t believe me. But by now I was completely convinced. Triad Stage was haunted.” She continues, “Time passed, and on a day when everyone was in the office, in the middle of the afternoon, the music returned. The same jazzy tunes, the same chairs dragging across the floor. Bobby and I looked at each other and screamed, ‘That’s it! That’s what we heard!’ Another co-worker of ours, who didn’t believe, took the stairs up to the third floor two at a time—he was going to catch whoever it was. When we arrived in the room after him, he stood in the middle of the floor, pale-faced and astonished, in complete darkness. ‘There’s no one here,’ he said. And a chill settled on all of us.”
“Now that others had been with me when I felt this presence, I was even more convinced, and more afraid,” Bush says, “I tried to avoid being alone in the building, especially since more and more employees came back reporting their own experiences with this spirit. Whistling jazz music, footsteps across the creaky wooden floor, feeling like someone was following them down empty hallways and more.” Despite her best efforts, one evening, she was alone again. At the time she was researching the 1930s for the troupe’s staging of Having Our Say, so “I decided to fill the empty office with jazz music: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway. A few minutes into my private concert, I heard footsteps and then the creak of someone sitting at a desk near mine. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see anyone, but figured one of my fellow colleagues had joined me.” She continues, “Then I heard a light foot-tapping in time with the music. I called out to whoever it might be and got no answer. I stood, rounded the cubicle wall, and saw that I was still alone. There was no one there. I paused my music. The foot-tapping stopped. I could feel a presence there. I decided to go back to my desk and play the music again and, again, the tapping began. I paused the music, the tapping stopped. I played it, the tapping returned. I did this several times, and the results were the same.”
She ended up electing to “play the music and ignore the feeling of dread, and eventually I felt myself relax and even enjoy the music; the more I hummed and danced along, the stronger the presence felt in the room. But this wasn’t a heavy or scary presence anymore. This ghost which haunted the building seemed also to relax, and we became almost friendly after that.”
For the rest of her time at Triad Stage, Bush says, “I could hear the whistling, the jaunty jazzy music, the footsteps, and this presence that seemed to bond with me over music and hard work. He wasn’t always so kind to other employees…but that’s not my ghost story to tell.”
7 Stages Theatre, Atlanta
Among the staff of 7 Stages, whose home since 1985 was built decades earlier, tales of hauntings are well known, including stories of one apparition with a taste for alcohol. Managing director Mack Headrick recalls working late one night in the company’s black box. He says he “knew the building was empty and had set the alarm so I would know if anyone came in. We have a plywood floor in the hallway outside the space that has some noticeable creaks in it when walked on. I distinctly heard someone walking on this floor I knew so well.” He looked into it, but there was nothing there. “I went back to work and heard it again a short time later. This time I checked the alarm and walked the entire building to make sure I was alone. I found nothing, and went back to work. Heard it again and just packed up and got out of there!”
Production/facilities manager Katherine Neslund describes a tradition made necessary by a presence that plays practical jokes and also appears to enjoy liquor. She says she became aware of this apparent ghost during her first production with the company, 2012’s Dracula the Rock Opera. During the run, she recounts, “sewing machines kept breaking, and my entire script went missing, so I had to call the show from memory.” Following that performance, Neslund’s script turned up in one of the prop suitcases used in the production. One of her fellow staffers told her about a woman who haunted the theatre, a spirit who likes whiskey. “With all the chaos leading up to the opening, we started setting out the glasses of whiskey since we were always the last to leave the space and the first ones back in.” Neslund explains that another staffer “slept in the theatre multiple times during that show, and no one else ever entered to take the whiskey, though she would sometimes hear humming when she was sleeping in the black box dressing room. The whiskey was always gone, and the missing things would come back. It was almost like a ghost barter system: One drink equaled one item returned.”
Neslund says of this system, “On opening night, I hide a glass of whiskey in the same spot every time, and it’s always gone. No one else knows my secret spot. I just collect the glass the next day and return it to the bar, telling them it was left backstage, which is absolutely true.”
A guest artist took that arrangement to a new level during a visiting production in 2018. Neslund says, “Things kept getting moved around the Black Box, like we would put down a roll of spike tape and then it would just be somewhere else. Scissors we had just been using onstage would, out of nowhere, be put up on a shelf in the hallway when none of us had left the stage.” So she informed the director about the ghost and the whiskey, and the director “decided to put an entire bottle in the dressing room. The next day the bottle of whiskey was gone out of the locked theatre, but things quit disappearing and we had a smooth run afterwards.”
Florida Repertory Theatre, Fort Myers, Fla.
“I used to work late quite often,” recalls associate artistic director and ensemble artist Jason Parrish, “and I would be the only person in the offices atop the Historic Arcade Theatre,” Florida Rep’s home, a former movie house built in 1914, “in an office that was once an attic off of the old projector room.” Parrish explains that the lobby doors are made of steel and glass, “and the lock makes a very distinctive sound. I remember many occasions when I was the only person in the office after dark and would hear the lock make its familiar metallic click and the hinges squeal their usual protest.” Parrish continues, “I’d expect to hear someone’s footsteps up to the office, but they’d never come. I’d go downstairs to investigate, and the door was locked. No one had come in. I’d go on with my work believing I’d just misheard.”
Parrish says that, having an office above at the top of the stairs, “I used to pride myself on knowing whose gait was whose. I could tell from the footfalls who was coming up the steps, and after many years got good at guessing. Some nights working late, I would hear faint and unfamiliar creaks on the steps and expected a colleague coming in late to appear. No one ever did.”
Actor Rachel Burttram, an ensemble member at Florida Rep since 2002 who has also held a number of administrative roles, reports having many unexplained experiences there, in particular “the heavy stage door opening and closing by itself, as if an actor was coming to the boards to make an entrance. It happens during matinees, evenings, rain or shine. Additionally on more than one occasion I could have sworn that someone was standing next to me backstage left but upon second glance, I would be waiting in the wings alone.” Burttram says that the first time she had this last sensation, during the run of Rabbit Hole in 2007, she was so sure that somebody was next to her that she turned to address them. “When I saw I was alone, I literally had goosebumps. I was so convinced someone had been there I began questioning the run crew. But to my shock no one was stage left except me during that time. It has happened many times since. And now it just makes me laugh.”
Like Parrish, in her administrative positions Burttram would find herself working alone in her office late into the night. “After a time or two of calling out when hearing footsteps coming down the hall in my direction, I began locking myself in my office, although I knew no living person was in the building. I will say that all the energy has always been positive. A little shocking at first, but not scary. Whoever may be hanging around is either an actor who just can’t give up life upon the wicked stage or a real lover of the art form—or maybe some of both.”
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