Tales of the Town & Gown Ghost(s)
When I travel, I like to stop in and snoop around old theaters, whether they’re for live performances or movies. I always ask one of the employees or volunteers if there are any ghost stories about the place. Almost always, there are! Apparently, being dead isn’t enough of an inconvenience to stop some folks from attending a show.
The Town & Gown theater is no different. During my twenty years of assisting with plays here, I’ve heard an unnerving number of ghostly stories from other volunteers. With Halloween in mind, I asked T&G volunteers to jot down some of these experiences. I’ll try to organize them into a “tour” of the theater. Rest assured, any and all ghosts we’ll meet seem to be friendly. Well, for the most part. At times, they can be “playful.” It is, after all, a playhouse.
After you pass through the front doors, keep an eye out for the apparition seen by Circe Van Orden while taking a break from rehearsing The Fantasticks. She was “alone out in the lobby” and saw a feminine figure in a “long dress, hair was done up. She stood up, took a step and she was gone.” Susan Weber also says she caught a “glimpse of a shadow walking through the lobby from the arena.” The arena, by the way, is what we T&G regulars call the seating/performance area.
You might come upon a bit more paranormal activity just after passing from the lobby through the doors leading into the arena. That’s the spot where Cindy Sheets “saw movement in the doorway. It was an adult sized black figure that looked like it had come from the balcony stairs and was walking into the passage leading into the green room. A few seconds later, I saw the same exact thing, balcony stairs to green room. It didn't seem to look at me or pause, just trucked right on to the green room.” This was during rehearsals for And Then There Were None, which we presented in September/October of this year. The Fantasticks was performed back in 2006, showing that the spirits still linger among us.
I’m happy to declare that, during performances, any and all ghosts are generally respectful, quiet audience members (which, now that I think about it, probably isn’t helping ticket sales any). At the end of most shows, when the actors take their bows, they typically raise their hands to acknowledge the sound and light crew members up in the booth. Spend enough time in that booth, and you’re liable to come back down with a creepy tale to tell.
Perhaps the weirdest of all these stories comes from Charissa Prchal. A play titled The Night of January 16th was performed in 2014, and Charissa was able to run both sound and lights—and play a short role. She put on her costume while up in that dimly lit booth. “One of the nights,” she says, “I had the dress on & was reaching to pick up the shoes when something was tugging upward on the back of my dress so hard I thought I'd gotten it caught on something, but of course nothing was anywhere near. . . . I ran downstairs to pause & put the shoes on. And there discovered that I hadn't pulled the zipper up on the dress.” In other words, the ghost was trying to tell Charissa to make herself presentable. This is why I say the ghosts are friendly.
Most audience members never see the (creaky) stairway leading down from the booth to the greenroom. This room—which, of course, is painted green—is where something odd happened to Lisa Smith-Tabish. She explains, “I arrived early (and locked myself in) to get the house ready, and starting making coffee for the cast and crew. I felt a presence behind me and heard a man's voice call out, LISA! I turned around and expected one of the guys to be standing in the doorway...not a soul was in the building!”
There’s also a door in the greenroom that often opens “by itself,” but this is easily attributable to the air currents that do funny things in this window-less building. In fact, some of the stories I gathered can be pretty easily blamed on the AC kicking on or off, on wacky wiring, or on good ol’ gravity. I’m not sure, however, that the same can be said about the disturbing number of volunteers who, just like Lisa, have heard their names spoken when no one was there to speak it.
And this happens all over the building. Charissa heard her name uttered as she was building a set in the arena. I heard mine up in the booth. Working on Nunsense in 2017, Maddy Mae Billings was in a long hallway backstage when she heard her name whispered. She explains that it sounded “like it was someone right behind me. I turn around, and all the way down the other end of the hallway by the sinks, there was a tall,… male figure. It was an all-female cast with one male crew member, who was up in the booth at the time, so it definitely wasn’t him.” During Little Women in 2022, Olivia Shetter was trying to take a quick nap in this hallway. She says, “I heard my name 3 times as if someone was trying to get my attention, and no one was there. I didn’t hear any footsteps. I sat up to see if anyone was there and everyone was either on stage, up in the booth, or in the dressing rooms.” The same year, working on Guys and Dolls, Andrea Maciula Peters was alone in the costume shop—and alone in the building—when she heard a male voice say “hey.” It wasn’t her name exactly, but it was accompanied by a draft of cold air. Frequently, those claiming to have heard their name spoken from a disembodied source had no knowledge that this is a recurring experience at T&G. It’s weird.
Speaking of weird, let’s cautiously creep back to that hallway. It’s packed with mementos from decades of shows, and maybe these memories start to explain what happens along it. Susan Weber and Linda Frost Thrasher have walked down it and heard footsteps behind them, only to turn around to find no one there. Vance Black was installing speakers in the rooms off the hallway so that cast and crew can hear what’s happening onstage. He says he had only connected one of the two wires to a speaker when “I heard a man and woman speaking lines really fast and high pitched. It stopped as suddenly as it started.” Late one night, in 2011, Kimberly Kay was working on a set piece for Incorruptible. “I heard someone running their hand along the corrugated metal wall while walking up and down the hallway,” she reports. She sensed that the entity was female and attempted to communicate with her. “I’d get responses through knocks and bangs on the wooden flats in the shop. When one moved I decided it was time to go home for bed.” There’s a reason I’ve come to call it: The Haunted Hallway.
There isn’t space enough here for me to share all of the spine-tingling stories I’ve heard over the years at Town & Gown. Maybe next Halloween will be a good time for an update. In the meantime, here’s hoping that the current rehearsals for White Christmas will be interrupted by at least one yuletide ghost, be it from the past, present, or future. (Or is that a different story entirely?) White Christmas will be performed from December 6th through the 17th. Mark your calendar and join us! All of us.