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The Ghost of the Theatre

This article, written by Audrey Sasser, first appeared in The Olympian on Feb. 28, 2022.

The idea of the ghost of the theatre is a nationwide phenomenon which seemingly extends even to our theatre here at West Seattle High School. With unexplainable events and a rich history at the school, it begs the question, is there a ghost here lurking in our theatre?

There is a deep-rooted history and tradition surrounding the supernatural in the theatre, which extends to Broadway productions. A famous example of this is the Amsterdam theatre found in New York city, and their ghost named Olive Thomas, though not to be confused with the students by the same name at WSHS. According to New Amsterdam Theatre, Olive used to be a Ziegfeld Follies chorus member who committed suicide in the 1920’s. Since her death, performers and producers alike have heard her voice, occasionally have felt an invisible hand on their shoulder, and seen a slightly off looking apparition in the corner of their eye. She has been so active in the theater that the current producers have found ways to stay involved. In an interview done by Playbill, they found the ways participants have kept the tradition alive. ”She [Dana Amendola, vice president of operations for Disney Theatrical Group] has placed photographs of her at every entrance to the theatre so workers can greet her when they arrive for work each day (which is believed to keep her mischief to a minimum).”

The presence of theatre ghosts is something which haunts theatres nationwide, extending even to our theatre here at WSHS. Multiple people were willing to be interviewed, though only on the condition of remaining anonymous to avoid the ghost’s negative gauze. Both have experience working in the behind-the-scenes of the theatre and showed an insider’s perspective on the insidious agenda of the theatre ghost.

Someone by the Aelius Specter, said “I’ve participated in every show on the last 3, 3.5 years, so yeah, I see a lot”. Specter has had a wide range of experiences, emphasizing that everything comes back to the theatre techs who hear it all.

Specter stated, “Personally, I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe in the theater ghost. There are experiences we all have, there are times when the lights will turn on or there will be some sounds that or machines or something that will turn on and you will hear it. You’ll be like, oh, must be the ghost”. Rose Higginbotham is a school legend, a student in the mid 1900ds who is rumored by students to have hung herself in the area the theatre was built far before the addition of the theatre in the turn of the century.

In Interviewing the theatre director, Mr. Finley, Rose’s backstory was unveiled. Around 20 years ago, staff returned to the school to find the remodeled theater and courtyard area. In a conversation between the old band director and Mr. Finley, they began discussing whether or not to create a new Westside tradition. Mr. Finley initially rejected the idea, saying “We already have theater traditions that nobody understands, we have superstitions that nobody gets, why would we need to add weirdness to that? We’re already pretty weird. And it was not 4 days later that we heard about Rose Higgenbottom, this girl that hung herself in the theatre before it was spread around the school”

Despite Rose herself not being real, there was a theatre production which attracted something paranormal. The production is called Harvey, created in 1944 by the American playwright Mary Chase. The student-directed fall play in 2019 was about a man who has a rabbit imaginary friend, which no one else can see. A theatre tech for the production by the alias Casper said, “The spotlight would move around on its own. Toward the end of the production, we noticed how the spotlight would move from one side or the other, which made me feel like I was going crazy.” Specter who was also working in the production confirmed this by saying, “A lot of lights were moving, and stuff was constantly moved around the stage left tower.” That alone would create a tense and superstitious work environment, which accumulated till yet another unexplainable incident occurred.

When asked about the experience, the theatre student said, “Some people were driving home late at night after rehearsals, and it was snowy that week. So, it was really icy and they’re driving home in their big van and a white rabbit, just the biggest white rabbit they’ve ever seen, like it just runs out across the road. It ran right in front of them, and they came to a sudden stop and the car slid a bit”

When the production of Harvey finished, the strange phenomena quickly ended, much with the actor’s gratitude. Although there may not constantly be a paranormal spirit in the theatre, that does not make it any less superstitious of a workplace.

The use of a Ghost light is a universal practice in theatres, meant as an act of peace to any theatre ghosts. “It’s there so the ghosts can see; can you imagine you go to perform on your stage and it’s all pitch black. If there are ghosts, then we want to keep them at bay as much as possible.” Specter said.

According to Casper, “The there is a superstitious place. So many hangs on the performance of the play” Participants hang on the little traditions which give a peace of mind on such a delicately balanced performance. Superstitions and traditions can make a serious environment more fun, which makes the idea of the theatre ghost much more interesting. Regardless of the truth behind Roses story, she is a wonderful member of the West Seattle High School Theatre, who has been performing for two decades since her creation.

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