Ghostlights carry a somewhat magical reputation in the theatre community. For the superstitious, the ritual of placing a naked bulb in a darkened theatre after every performance is a time-honored way to ensure that ghosts and general bad karma stay far away from their company of actors and crew members. For the more pragmatically minded, the ghostlight simply shines to create a clear path for anyone who happens to stumble upon it. Whatever you choose to believe, the ghostlight is universally known as a symbol of safety.
Last night, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, the New Haven theatre community joined together in solidarity to embrace that same symbol of safety with The Ghostlight Project, an event that took place at theatres nationwide. In the midst of a barrage of hate crimes and promises of exclusion from prominent government figures, a group of theatre artists decided it was time for the theatre to publicly re-establish itself as a place of welcome and equal rights for all, and especially those who feel marginalized by the incoming administration.
At 5:30pm, a group of about 100 theatre professionals, students, and patrons gathered at the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven, bringing their friends and homemade signs with messages of hope. Josh Borenstein, Managing Director of Long Wharf Theatre, kicked off the event by inviting the crowd to shine their flashlights and glow sticks into the air. The lights glowed for the remainder of the event, as Victoria Nolan, Managing Director of Yale Rep, spoke to the group: “Like the ghostlight, the light we create tonight represents our commitment to safeguard. It will symbolize safe harbor for all of our values, and for any among us who find ourselves targeted because of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, disability, gender identity, sexual identity, or dissonant actions in the coming years.”
In a moment that truly encapsulated both the reflective and progressive nature of the gathering, Aleta Staton, a local actor, activist, and educator, addressed the crowd and read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ‘Praise Song For The Day”, the same poem that was read during Barack Obama’s historic inauguration: (an excerpt)
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
Theatre is, and must always remain, a place of inclusion. It is our job to tell other people’s stories, and that would be virtually impossible if we couldn’t first accept and respect others who are different from us as human beings deserving of freedom and happiness. As we march ahead into a future that at times feels foggy, let theatre, and the arts community as a whole, be a shining example of the world we hope to create.