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Are San Diego’s Theaters Haunted?

Evening Edition

Ghosts may come out on Halloween, but if you want to know where they live year-round, consider our local theaters. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone goes ghost hunting on San Diego’s stages.

Aired 10/31/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone goes ghost hunting on San Diego’s stages.


Aired 10/31/12 on KPBS News.

Ghosts may come out on Halloween, but if you want to know where they live year-round, consider our local theaters. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone goes ghost hunting on San Diego’s stages.

Beahr Garcia has worked security at The Old Globe theater for seventeen years. She’s often the last person in the theater late at night locking up.

Even though she’s in an empty theater at that point, it doesn’t always feel like it. "In certain pockets in certain places, you feel a presence, like someone’s watching you," Garcia explained as we sat in the desolate Globe theater.

Garcia has heard noises in the theater that can’t be explained. She believes they’re ghosts. One night, at about midnight, Garcia was doing paperwork and heard one of those noises. "All of a sudden I hear this woman’s laughter," she said. "It was kind of a playful yet creepy laughter."

The tech crew at San Diego Rep's drew a ghost on the theater's ghost light.
Enlarge this image

Above: The tech crew at San Diego Rep's drew a ghost on the theater's ghost light.

Garcia thought an actor came back into the theater. She checked, didn’t find anyone, so went back to work.

"And the next thing you know I hear it again. This time it gave me goosebumps and I came on stage and it was ice cold." She shivers. "I’m getting goosebumps now," Garcia said, laughing nervously.

Garcia wasn’t on a dark stage that night. It was lit by what’s called a ghost light: a single light bulb on a stand placed on the edge of the stage. Most theaters have a ghost light that stays lit all night. The ghost light dates back to Shakespeare, when a single candle lit the theater after the show ended.

The most practical explanation for the ghost light is safety. Someone could get hurt if they walked onto a dark stage. There are often items and chords lying about, not to mention an orchestra pit to fall into.

Emily Roxworthy, a theater historian at UCSD, says there's another reason for the ghost light, albeit a more superstitious one. "One idea is that after the theater goes dark, the ghosts come out. And the ghost light might be able to ward off those ghosts."

Some take a more ghost-friendly approach. They believe the ghost light should be left on in case the ghosts want to stage their own play in the middle of the night. After all, legend has it most ghosts inhabiting theaters are dead actors.

"Some people think that actors can’t go to heaven," explains Sam Woodhouse, artistic director at San Diego REP, referring to an old legend. "So the spirits and souls of actors who have passed are living in the theater and the ghost light is there so when everyone goes home the actors can come out and act."

Cygnet Theatre's artistic director Sean Murray believes that ghosts inhabit c...
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Above: Cygnet Theatre's artistic director Sean Murray believes that ghosts inhabit certain theaters.

Sean Murray, artistic director at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town describes the poltergeist energy in theaters as "puckish."

"You set something down and you’ll find it somewhere else later. I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye, a movement. Or I’ll see someone walking along the top of the grid. You look up and there’s nothing there."

Murray often performed at the old historic Lyceum downtown. It used to be a vaudeville theater and supposedly it had ghosts. One night, Murray and three other actors saw one as they waited off-stage left for an actress to finish singing her solo.

"We were all looking on stage and the lady was out there performing by herself and right behind her was a kind of shadow figure doing her movements with her and kind of making fun of her. We all saw it," according to Murray.

Some theaters risk it and don't have a ghost light. Roxworthy says one of San Diego’s newer theaters doesn’t have one and now the stage manager there thinks it’s haunted. "It's something that is terrifying the crew because front of house chimes will suddenly go off for no reason. They’ll see strange people in the theater. Things will fall off the wall for no reason and she says it’s because they don’t have a ghost light," Roxworthy said.

Working on this story, I found myself in a lot of dark empty theaters, lit only by the ghost light. They’re cavernous and any noise can startle you. Mark Robertson is a scenic carpenter at San Diego REP. He’s often in the theater late at night by himself. "You start to hear sounds and things start to move. It’s the kind of thing people always point to and say there must be a ghost and I think it’s true," Robertson said with conviction.

Murray believes ghosts come with the territory in live theater. "You’re creating things in the air when you do live performance. What happens to that energy when hundreds of people come together in a space and experience something together and then it’s gone? What happens to that energy when the lights go out?" Murray asked. He added, "something happens."

We may not know for sure what happens in San Diego’s theaters long after the audiences go home. But we do know that on stage, a single bulb keeps burning through the night.

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Avatar for user 'Dothscribble'

Dothscribble | October 31, 2012 at 7:10 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

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Avatar for user 'cwsojourner'

cwsojourner | October 31, 2012 at 7:41 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

In the early 90s I was working as Technical Director during the declining days of the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Co. at the Horton Grand Theatre. During a booked-in production of Shepard's "The Unseen Hand" I was working late one night on the lights, alone. I took a break and laid down on the set, looking up into the grid. A few minutes passed, then all the stage electrics swayed as if they were in a breeze. But there wasn't a breeze, and those things weigh hundreds of pounds fully loaded like they were. That wasn't the only spooky occurrence there, but it's one of the most striking. - Chris White

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | October 31, 2012 at 10:15 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

If there's something I can't explain, I like to just automatically assume it's a supernatural spirit ghost from the paranormal universe world. You know, uh, otherworldly energies and such. Personally, I find it's a very fun and interesting way to escape the boring "real" world and all its trappings of logic and reason. Boo logic and reason, you're no fun!

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Avatar for user 'jimR'

jimR | November 1, 2012 at 10:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Two stories about ghosts in theatres in one week. Does the management of KPBS care about the quality of their stories? Shame on Angela Carone for this one.

The stage is filled with "energy" after a performance. S
And you don't know where it goes.... let me see.
The light energy that reflected off the actors hit the walls floors and ceiling of the theatre warming them slightly. The sound of the voices and music dissipated leaving behind a tiny amount of heat too. The minds of the audience may be greatly effected but unless they are related to Uri Geller (fraudulent psychic who claimed to bend spoons with his mind) they aren't bending any spoons over it.
Theatres are hurting in the recession. There is a $1,000,000 prize for evidence of the paranormal. Surely one of haunted theatres will be the first to cash in?
(sarcasm intended)
What is the harm of promoting this foolishness.
Paranormal claims are used in many countries to accuse people of witchcraft (see youtube key words Africa witches National geographic ) The innocent are persecuted and sometimes killed. Paranormal claims support extreme religious beliefs in the US too. A co-worker used to tell me about "signs" daily.
And my uncle who beleived certain "energies" were more important
than the medicine his doctor prescribed stopped taking his medicine.
This is likely to have led to his death about 2 weeks ago.
It is simple.
If a story is not true
don't report it.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | November 2, 2012 at 1:34 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

At least KPBS didn't report this as news, per se. They put it in the "arts and culture" section instead. I understand they're just trying to fill time with a fun Halloween fluff piece, but that's really more of a KUSI thing in my opinion. A KUSI morning show. On the weekend.

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Avatar for user 'michaeljtoo'

michaeljtoo | November 6, 2012 at 1:44 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago


Really? Your hatred for hispanics is so great that you don't even try to find legitimate stories about them? Wow.

Get help.

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