The following review of Ghost Light contains minor spoilers and describes some scenes within and around the theater.
“If you think this scene is written for you, it is…and the writer wishes he was here with you right now.”
I wait in the lobby of Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater waiting to be let in, but in some ways, the show has already begun. I look down and admire the ticket that was handed to me, bearing the look and feel of something that was printed in the early 20th century. The title ‘Exits and Entrances’ is written in large letters across. Then I hear chimes and the doors are pulled open by ushers. The audience floods towards the front. A night of enchantment commences.
The roughly hundred audience members line up at the large theater doors, but only small groups of seven are allowed in at a time. When the moment arrives for my group to enter into a hallway enveloped in darkness, a man in a tuxedo approaches us. He smiles and politely guides us into a small, lavish theater with rows of crimson seats facing a stage, but I don’t see the hordes of people who entered before us. The room is empty and peacefully still. We are led past the rows though because it is not yet time to sit. Our journey begins backstage.
Third Rail Projects, the groundbreaking company behind Then She Fell and The Grand Paradise, describes their latest New York City show, Ghost Light, as a performance about performance which navigates through a series of real and dreamlike landscapes beyond the footlights, the glitter, and the greasepaint.
In an industry focusing on fooling an audience from a stage, Ghost Light provides a captivating peak at the magic that’s happening behind the scenes and the internal struggles that haunt the minds of the creators involved wanting to leave their legacy behind.
Throughout the show, I’m led through prop rooms, up and down stairwells, and past janitor closets. You know, the usual spots. Abandoning traditional theater grandeur, the performance leads us to a men’s bathroom at one point, forcing me to wonder if the show would continue inside... It’s not that ridiculous of an assumption though, because nearly every bit of space in the building is fair game and plays an integral part in establishing the world of Ghost Light, because for once the audience is asked to look past what’s in the light and gaze into what might be hidden in the shadows.
Though the theater itself plays a very important role in setting the tone, it’s where the audience is positioned during these series of vignettes that brings this piece a unique quality. I’m left speechless as I peer down a stairwell and witness the struggle of a woman using all her strength to crawl her way up, a scene that just couldn’t work standing up close or in front. The spiral of the stairs surrounding her create a natural cinematic frame. Another scene places the audience on one side of giant metal shelves supporting a variety of props. I stare through and witness a dirty and obstructed view of a couple romantically embracing themselves through the movement of beautiful choreography.
Don’t be fooled in thinking you’ll remain a silent observer for the entirety of Ghost Light; this experience is not completely passive. A few opportunities afford you the opportunity to shine with your own assigned role: from helping an aging actress rehearse some lines from her new play to temporarily being the Stage Manager’s assistant as you hold and deliver various absurd props (don’t drop the lobsters). And be ready for whatever task you’re given. This theater company is on crunch time and cannot afford any hindrance.
As they’ve shown through their productions of Then She Fell and The Grand Paradise, the minds behind Third Rail are complete masters at coordinating the flow of their experience. At any given time, I was never in a room with more than fifteen others (not including cast), and the majority of time was spent whittled down to a very intimate four. Not once did my eyes lock with another group in the distance or catch a glimpse of others approaching. For all I knew, nothing existed outside the space I was welcomed to.
It also wouldn’t be a Third Rail immersive production without offering a variety of disparate and diverse “tracks” to go down. Afterwards, I exchange details with the others who went through, describing entirely different scenes I hadn’t encountered. I share a moment in which I was completely mesmerized by a whimsical story, told over the haunting melody of a piano. In turn, others share their time spent in small room filled with miniatures, constructing a model-sized version of the exact area in which a couple danced across a room earlier in the show. This experience offered multiple paths to go down, some laid out in an entirely different sequence; this adds to the overall perspective of the narrative exits the theater with you. And my story will never be your story.
With tickets selling out fast, Ghost Light is currently running until August 6th. For more information on the show and possible extension, you can visit their website and purchase available tickets here. Check back for more coverage on East Coast immersive events on Haunting.