Ghost Light Stays On

A new blog by SPARC Guest Blogger, Denise Lysak.

On stages all across Ontario, ghost lights are on.  Plawyrights, storytellers, actors, musicians, comedians, masters of marionettes, and, so many more #stayhome as COVID-19 – a coronavirus threatens the lives of many.  

A ghost light is a small, single bulbed light usually a floor lamp of some sort, that shines on the dark stage throughout the night. It is both practical and mystical. There are many crooks and crannies in theatre spaces. And, trip hazards abound, including orchestra pits and false bottom floors. It is best to keep the spaces lit and on more than one occasion, you will hear theatre techs, grips and gaffers – telling the last one to leave for the night, “to turn on the ghost light”.  

For others, the ghost light takes on a more, mysterious meaning. If it is true that every theatre has a ghost, then the ghost light illuminates and defines the shadowy world that people from our past inhabit. According to Playbill.com, it is said that the Palace Theatre is one of the most haunted theatres on Broadway.  There is an old Masonic lodge in Winnipeg – on the corner of Ellice and Donald – that has been home to many a theatre production and it is known to be haunted by a ghost. More than a century ago, one of Canada’s largest unsolved mysteries occurred. Theatre tycoon Ambrose Small, who owned The Grand London and many other Canadian theatres, sold his empire, deposited the money in the bank, and then disappeared. Eerie encounters with this grand ghost continue and the ghost of Ambrose Small has been seen as he continues to haunt The Grand Theatre, in London, Ontario to this day. Whether it is fact or fiction, the tradition lives on.  And, as emergency measures and shelter in place orders mark these trying times, ghost lights stay on.

In the heart of Ontario’s bread basket, The Blyth Festival has postponed its season but has not yet cancelled any of its shows, the first of which is scheduled to open June 10, with the world premiere of Airborne: The Life and Legacy of Lorne Bray.  Port Stanley Festival Theatre postponed its first two shows of the season, The Crooner Show (May 19-23) and A Legal Alien (May 26-30).

The list goes on. The Stratford Festival has suspended its 2020 season indefinitely.  The Shaw Festival has now cancelled all events until after June 30th as the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake extends its state of emergency and ban on all public events and meetings. The curtain has also fallen on smaller outdoor summer music festivals including The Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls and the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in Nestor Falls, far off the beaten path in northwestern Ontario.  

The revenues lost from non-existent ticket sales, fundraisers, and membership drives may prove to be insurmountable for many festivals, theatre, galleries and museums. Tourism dollars will not be flowing and the ripple effect will be felt at lodges, resorts, restaurants, and retail shoppes from James Bay to Point Pelee and all places in between. The livelihoods of artists, musicians, painters, ticket takers, and arts practitioners lay in the balance. 

As not-for-profit organizations and people pivot, stories of wardrobe mistresses making masks and sewing garments for front-line workers and musicians streaming live online are coming to light. And, even in the midst of a global health pandemic, we are all connected. To something bigger than ourselves. To causes and challenges that were only known by generations before us.  Times have changed. Are we all standing at the portal? In the days before COVID-19, this was a familiar hymn heard at New Year’s and a song of praise and worship.  

Today, Standing at the Portal represents a before and after: pre-COVID and the new normal. For now, we are all striving to find a new rhythm. To navigate uncharted waters, with ways and means seldom called upon before. When will musicians play live onstage again?  When will actors and actresses leave small gifts in dressing rooms, just before they take their places to perform beloved classics or world premieres?  When will festivals occupy city spaces, open fields and forested glens – connecting people to places again? Only when we turn off the last ghost light…

 

 

Speak Your Mind

*