Theatre is a medium of ghosts. Writers become haunted by words they need to exorcise through plays, which are then put onstage by actors and technicians who repeat the same lines and actions night after night - like souls destined to live in the same moment forever. Audience members who sit through the show might also become haunted by what they saw onstage, leading to a never ending cycle in which the spectrums that once inhabited a writer’s imagination, now become part of the unsuspecting viewer’s own lore, the images and lines becoming part of their essence. None of these things happen in an obvious way at the theater, like any good possession its effects are only palpable when they’re undeniable, when they have seeped into the unconscious.
In Ghost Light, the imaginative folks at Third Rail Projects, in collaboration with Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3, have devised an experience that tries to capture the fragility of being haunted by the theatre, combined with a more traditional behind the scenes tour. Named after the lone lamp left on the stage to make sure people don’t trip in the dark, but also to appease the presence of wandering souls, the immersive experience has audience members go into what feels like every nook and cranny in the Claire Tow Theater.
In each room, sometimes in each corner, audience members run into ghosts that range from the playful to the macabre. A golden age diva mourns the loss of youth and fears the day when “what was luminous will be seen as a gimmick”, while the ingenue she dismisses has fantasies of her own about becoming a renowned diva. Are the ghosts unaware of the different levels of existence they occupy? In a dim hallway, a sad clown invites us to listen to a monologue being written by an invisible playwright as he delivers it, for a moment he convinces us that we too are part of this being’s imagination, and he might be right, for we too become characters in the experience of other audience members.
Conceived by Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, and created in collaboration with the whole company, Ghost Light is a reminder of the brilliant work of Third Rail Projects who in shows like The Grand Paradise have proved they are the smartest company when it comes to creating sensuous experiences that send you home dazed, exhilarated and wanting more. One of the greatest achievements of this production is how they are able to infuse a space with nonexistent history, even though the Claire Tow Theater opened barely five years ago, we are convinced that the WWII-era spirits we meet, actually performed in the space at one time.
The show runs like a well oiled machine, unlocking secrets with each new room visited, there are elements that add to stories we’ve heard or will hear later, creating a sense of echo or deja vu depending on the time, and even though audience participation isn’t heavy or obligatory, the show has a strange quality that allows one to be completely at ease even when asked to hold a basket full of mannequin heads. Ghost Light is the rare show that feels like it would be rewarded from a repeat visit, it’s the kind of show that you want to get lost in regardless of the consequence.