Just east of the golden dome of the basilica in Notre Dame Indiana is Washington Hall. It was built in 1881. It’s relatively old for this area. And it’s riddled with ghosts.
Just 8pm, but we are in a pool of light, sitting on the stage doing a speed run. Vital to identify the bits of bad learning and a speed run will find them. But it’s cold in here. I’m already on the edge of shivering when I look to Claire mid scene. She is turned at ninety degrees to the stage, utterly still, staring defiantly at something in the wings. I turn to look. “Don’t,” she shoots, barely moving. It’s like she’s holding something at bay. “Oh no, the ghost?” I ask her. “Sssh” she responds. My character has just been talking about Satan. I go cold.
Actors are a superstitious lot. It’s well known. I’ve escaped a lot of the superstitions but ghosts… Oh go on then. I get a shot of full body goose pimples. The whole speed run crashes for a few minutes while we all quietly lose and regain our cool. Then we get back on track despite the fact that there’s somebody else in the room. A strange shifting notion of a presence. An observer. Nice to have an audience I guess. I find myself relieved that we’ve outlined our stage space with a circle of light. We sit there, huddled in this huge hall, under the scrutiny of this idea of a dead person among hundreds of empty chairs, and we make another dead man’s words come alive in a ring of warmth and brightness and life.
I remember five years ago when I first walked onto this stage with Scott. The theatre was dark, but there was one strange light standing alone in the middle of the stage. “What’s that,” I asked. “Don’t you have those in the UK?” He said. “It’s a ghost light. And we need it here.” “Does it attract them or scare them off?” “I think the idea is that it keeps them off the stage…” No ghost operas on our stage overnight then. That’s something. But the presence of the light brings the presence of a presence into the tense present. Suggestion is a powerful thing. We are cold from air con. We are tired at the end of the day without much food. We see a ghost – in so much as anybody has ever seen a ghost. I see it through Claire seeing it. Now I have a frame of reference for “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I can still picture the expression on her face. Challenge mixed with horror. Stillness.
Coming from London, having spent time in York and having lived in a room in Oxford that was certainly haunted (so far as you CAN be certain of that bollocks), this relatively new building is a prime candidate for one of the spookiest places I’ve ever worked in.
It’s an amazing auditorium though and the five of us will fill it with light and joy for three nights this week. We will either banish the ghosts to the edges of the darkness, or we will give them a bloody good show.
Here’s three of us, watched by a ghostly audience. There’s the ghost light and Sydney who gave her time up to be on book for us, and is generally awesome. And who I promised I’d shout out. And who could be a friendly ghost, considering we’ve never seen her outside of the building. But if so she’s got us fooled.