It seems like every theatre in America and beyond is, or has been, haunted. Playbill On-Line asked members to share their real-life backstage ghost stories.
Here is a selection of the results. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took time to reply.
I am on the Board of Directors and very active at Dover Little Theatre, a 116-seat community theatre in Dover, New Jersey. Prior to becoming a theatre, the building was an undertakers establishment, including a morgue, so of course there are all kinds of stories associated with the theatre.
We have experienced numerous "happenings" including hearing whistling, having lights pop on and off and even tap dancing the empty bathrooms! At this point we are usually frightened any more, but accept these things as part of the building.
One of the most scary experiences I had was during rehearsals for the production of "And the World Goes 'Round" that I directed. I had been through the basement and backstage making sure the lights were off and the doors were shut and locked. I was standing in the lobby with my choreographer, gathering my bags getting ready to leave and the two of us heard footsteps coming up the basement stairs. Since we were the only two people there, the doors were shut and locked, and it was completely dark except for the 1 light in the lobby, we didn't bother to investigate, just shut the light, locked the building and left. Also during that production, we closed up and shut the lights after a performance and left to go out for drinks. I realized that I had left the nights receipts in the box office and went back to the theatre after to pick them up. When I unlocked the door, the lights were on throughout the building and all the interior doors were wide open.
Our most recent experience was during a Board meeting in the auditorium. There were about six of us sitting in the audience area and the stage was set for the current production of "Arsenic and Old Lace". We were the only people in the building at this time. During a pause in conversation, we heard knocking on one of the doors on the set.
Currently we are planning our Halloween event for 11/2 which includes having a "haunted" theatre through the basement and back-stage area, complete with a coffin! We often wonder what kind of trouble we may be stirring up...
From Mike Beahm:
In the mid 80's I was president of a small community theatre group in Missouri. We had purchased an old furniture store/funeral home and had converted the building into a theatre.
We bought the building from an old man and his wife and sister. They had gotten so old they couldn't keep up with things any more, and we were left with a building filled with stuff that had been there for, in some cases, almost 100 years.
Besides numerous coffins, we had embalming supplies and an intact embalming room, complete with a cabinet filled with bloody sheets, etc. It was quite gross.
One day I was working in the basement of the building cleaning (I was right below the front door) when I heard someone unlock and open the door on the first floor. I could distinctly hear them walking across the floor above me, and they walked directly to the top of the basement stairs. Thinking it was one of my friends (only 3 of us had keys to the front door, which had been locked), I yelled out, "I'm down here!" so they could find me. No one responded.
Thinking they just couldn't hear me, I bounded up the stairs, happy to have someone there to help clean. When I opened the door, the lights were out, there was no sign of anyone, and the front door was still locked! I decided I would finish cleaning some other time.
Later, many people claimed to see an old man "out of the corner of their eye" but he would always vanish when they turned to him. We also had several incidents where people observed our stereo turn on and off by itself, usually off.
From Joseph Iungerman, Rider University (Iungerman@enigma.rider.edu):
It's quite well known that quoting from "Macbeth" will bring bad luck on stage. In high school, 3 years before I took to the stage, an office across from the theatre caught fire and nearly burnt down the school. In college, during a production of the "Elephant Man", someone quoted aloud from "that play" aloud in the dressing room (after coming into my dorm bathroom and plastering quotes from "that play" all over the mirrors in dry erase pen. During a blackout, I fell off of an 8 foot high set. Days later, the director took a header off the same set. We began to have problems with the music and sound system. Cues became impossible to remember. Coincidence? Probably not.
In a production od David Ives' "All in the Timing," "that play" was tauntingly quoted from again. As I went onstage as Leon Trotsky, the wig and prosthetic ax in it began to fall off my head, much to the audience's delight, and my personal chagrin. Essential props became missing in action, affecting the nature of the performance.
While I was working on tech staff for a production of "Rumors," parts of the set broke, entire banks of lights failed to come on line druing the performance simaltaneously. Again, some smart guy actually had a copy of the play on the set.
Now perhaps I'm just a klutz, or Rider University has a cursed theatre program. However, I've been told that Actor's Equity has rules against quoting from "The comedy of Glamis", and if they don't do it, then I assume it's safe to say there must be some credence to avoiding that cursed play.
From Elyzabeth Gorman:
I go to Southwest High School in Minneapolis and, along with about 15 other people, I LIVE on the Southwest stage.
Supposedly, there have been two people that have died there. In the '50s our theatre was a gym and there's a story that a gymnast who didn't get into college hanged himself on the little stage at the end of the gym which years later was to become the Southwest stage.
Sometime later, during the early '70s, they say, a techie died on the stage, supposedly because of a scoop hung on a loose c-clamp.
I never believed these stories and I never believed in ghosts. When my friend Jamie told us how he had snuck into the theatre and saw some shimmery white thing floating at the back of the house, I thought he was probably hallucinating.
Then one day I snuck onto the stage to eat lunch with some of my friends. One of the girls, Chelsea, told Ritz, our stage manager, that she was scared of the dark.
Ritz, being the sadist that he is, immediately bolted for the light both and turned off all the lights. Chelsea was about to get really scared when the spotlight standing in the back of the house turned on and focused on us. Ritz flipped the lights back on and the spotlight turned off. Ritz ran past us, white as a sheet and started up the aisle to the back of the house. (Since our theatre doubles as an auditorium, it is an absolute cavern and the back of the house is a really long way from the stage.)
Meanwhile Kristi and Bri were talking about ghosts and I mentioned that I had heard a story that a techie died there. When I said that the spotlight started flashing.
Ritz, half-way up the aisle, turned right back around and bolted to our group. When I asked him how he was controlling the light, he gave me a funny look and reminded me that the only way to control the spotlight was by a switch on the side. I have gotten tech crews together before and I had also worked the spotlight before, so I knew he was telling the truth. The only way to control that spotlight was if you were standing right next to it, and all the doors to theatre were locked and had been since 4:00 p.m. the afternoon before. The only unlocked door was the one we had unlocked and were sitting right next to. There was no way anyone else could've been in that theatre.
Then Kristi, who had laughed at Ritz and said she didn't believe in ghosts, started feeling this burning sensation on the back of her neck and the spotlight turned red and focused on her.
We left the theatre quickly and since then, we've tried never to be in the theatre without someone else there. The funny thing is though, when I'm in there alone, I feel totally at peace. Even if I'm furious, or if I'm sneaking in there because I need a place to cry, as soon as I get on that stage, I feel nothing but peace and contentment.
Many years ago when I was an Equity apprentice, a buddy and myself entered the darkened theatre between shows to relax and strech out on the empty BAREFOOT IN THE PARK set. We spent at least 45 minutes discussing how hard we were working and what a slave driver the producer/director was. We vented all our frustrations and shared many items of gossip about the same.
All at once, in back of us the drop cloth rose behind us on the sofa. The tall ghostly creature sent chills up an down our spines, especially when we realized that it was our producer/director who had been resting all through our conversation only a few feet away from us. Needless to say, the explanations we gave were also very horrific!
If you have a ghost story you'd like to add, write it up and send it to Playbill On-Line Managing Editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org.