Don’t Be Scared… It’s just a Ghost (Light)

How do you define ghost light? Have you ever seen one? Join the conversation!

Sneak into a theatre late at night and you might find the only source of light is a single bulb, uncovered, on a tall stand at center stage.

Why is it called a “ghost light“?

Theatre people are a superstitious bunch. Lots of us believe that most—if not all—theatres are haunted. Ghosts need help, the thinking goes, when they tread the boards in a dark and deserted playhouse. Otherwise, they might bump into the scenery.

On the other hand, some folks say the opposite—that ghost lights ward off evil spirits by fooling them into thinking the building is occupied.

Also, it’s bad luck (and bad business) for a theatre to be “dark”—i.e., without a show. Leaving a ghost light on is also superstitious way of making sure the house is always “lit.”

Ghost lights have a practical purpose, too. Empty theatres can be dark and scary places! Remember, they are specifically designed to shut out natural light. Imagine how pathetic an onstage blackout would look with sunlight streaming in through a haphazardly covered window.

So before departing for the night, the stage crew switches on the ghost light—usually these days, an energy-saving compact florescent bulb. This helps make sure no one accidentally crashes into the scenery, which is set up differently for every show. Or mistakenly steps off the edge of the stage in the dark. Yikes!

— Ben Pesner

This video was made by Theatre Development Fund.

Here’s the team:

Theatre Development Fund is the nation’s largest not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts. Through a variety of programs and services that promote education, access and conversation, it ensures an enduring appreciation of and engagement with live theatre. In addition to operating the TKTS booth in Duffy Square and the satellite booths at South Street Seaport and in downtown Brooklyn, TDF’s theatre education, accessibility, affordable ticketing and audience development programs help to make the unique experience of theatre available to diverse audiences while supporting New York’s theatre industry. Since it was founded in 1968, TDF has provided over 80 million people with access to performances at affordable prices while returning over $2 billion in revenue to thousands of productions.