"It’s about us saying: we haven’t gone forever; we’re coming back and we’re going to leave the lights on to show you that.”
As the Sydney Opera House’s theatres close their doors, a solitary light casts a warm glow across each empty stage.
‘Ghost lights’ have been installed in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Drama Theatre, Playhouse and Studio, reviving an age-old theatre tradition, steeped in superstition.
Ange Sullivan, Head of Lighting at the Sydney Opera House (pictured), describes the tradition of ghost lights and how they can send a message of comfort and hope in this time of uncertainty. “It’s an old theatre tradition. It’s something that’s been done around the world for decades, if not hundreds of years,” says Ange. The tradition has a practical explanation, allowing the last person to leave the theatre and the first person to return to see the edge of the stage, so they don’t fall into the orchestra pit.
There is also a more romantic notion to this tradition, and one that appeals to Ange a lot more. She explains, “every theatre has at least one ghost, and when they come out at night, we don’t want them bumping into scenery or disturbing props. If we leave a light for them, they can play on stage without disturbing any of our gear.”
Are there any ghosts at the Sydney Opera House (we had to ask) – again, according to Ange, a number of staff think there may be one in the Joan Sutherland Theatre.
“I believe I’ve seen it a couple of times after an opera set changeover; it would have been about one in the morning, I think I saw an older gentleman hanging around the back of the theatre. He was quite benevolent, just watching what we were doing. I know others who’ve claimed to see ghosts up in the loges (private boxes) as well.
The last thing Ange and her team did as the Sydney Opera House theatres closed temporarily was to put up the ghost lights, albeit the 21st century version with low energy 4 watt LED fixtures.
They were happy to be able to bring this theatre tradition back, “with so much uncertainty in the world, it’s just a small measure of comfort we can offer. A beacon, if you like. It’s about us saying: we haven’t gone forever; we’re coming back and we’re going to leave the lights on to show you that.”
The Sydney Opera House is bringing vibrant digital performances each week from their house to yours.