Ghost Light

We are novice theatergoers. In fact, aside from supporting our friends in high school by dropping in on the plays they were in, we didn’t go to another play until Jackson was in kindergarten. Since then, and with the help of some friends, we have had the pleasure of not just watching plays and musicals, but actually being part of a school production of The Wiz Jr. Wherein Jerimiah helped out with the stage, I helped with costumes, and Jackson played both a flying monkey and a crow. Here, have a gander.

We’ve also seen countless plays, Jackson has taken theater classes at the wonderful ImagineOn School of Theater Training in Charlotte, and Jerimiah and I have seen both Kinky Boots (starring Wayne Brady) and The Play That Goes Wrong, on Broadway. Then a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves, along with Jackson, once again in NYC and we were lucky enough to be able to take him to his first Broadway show. It was fun and it was exciting, as many of you probably know, you never forget your first Broadway show! And what better show for him to see than The Lion King! You can read more about his experience in the link above.

He loved the show, was mesmerized by the cast, the puppets, the music, it all added up to a night of wonderful memories which we got to share with some of our best friends. But the coolest part, in my opinion, was the behind the scenes tour that we had after the show. Apparently a behind the scenes tour on Broadway isn’t as easy to get as at your local playhouse. In fact, you sort of have to know someone, who knows someone. Turns out we did. And we got to walk the wings of the legendary Minskoff Theater located at 1515 Broadway.

The Minskoff Theater is a 1,600 seat theater, much bigger than any other Broadway theater we’ve been in, in the heart of Midtown. It opened in 1973, with a revival of Irene starring Debbie Reynolds. Since then it has been home to Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue; Hello Dolly!, Cabaret, Sunset Boulevard, Fiddler on the Roof, and it was once home to the Miss Universe Pageant. But in 2006 The Lion King set up shop there, and it’s been home to it ever since.

Because we are novice theatergoers, as mentioned before, we learned quite a bit about the backstage area while we were on the tour. We learned, for example, the very real, very scary ways the props made it to the stage. If you have ever seen The Lion King you know there must be some feat of strength to get this done. Bertha, the giant elephant from the opening act, hangs from the rafters, for instance. Which both amazed and terrified me. We saw the boards on each side of the stage where notable celebrities and politicians sign there names when they’ve had their own private tour, and we even got to sneak into the pit below the stage, which is small and claustrophobic for a person like me, filled to the brim with what can only be hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars worth of musical equipment. But the story that stuck with me the most, was the story of the ghost light. If you’re a drama person, or a regular theatergoer, you probably already know the story, but this was new to me so I will share with you just in case.

As we were finishing up our tour the crew was running around shutting down lights, cleaning up the theater, putting all the props away, etc. And at one point when we were standing on the stage, just after Jackson did his “Simba” thing with his toy Simba (pic below) the lights shut off. “I guess we are done,” our tour guide said, and we made our way downstairs with him to grab his coat. But as we were leaving the stage I noticed one single light still on. I made a quizzical look and our friends said, “It’s the ghost light.”

The Ghost Light is a single, incandescent bulb left on the stage overnight to give a bit of light to the people still in the theater, mainly so they don’t fall into the open pit below the stage. But it gets its name because it’s believed that every theater has a ghost that haunts it. And the ghost can be destructive if you don’t appease it. Some theaters use the ghost light to allow the ghost to perform at night, so they don’t wreck havoc on the production. Others leave it on to scare away the ghosts, because after all, we know ghosts like the pitch black of night. I don’t know the particular reason the ghost light comes on in The Minskoff, aside from it being mandated by the Actors’ Equity Association, but I suspect it’s for ghostly reasons.

At the end of the night we took the subway back to our hotel and had milkshakes just after one a.m. at the Tick Tock Diner. Stood on our terrace at our New Yorker suite in the rain, and watched the Empire State Building change colors. I wondered about the Minskoff ghost and hoped it was getting all the stage time it needed.

M.

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