On Thursday at exactly 5:30 p.m. , communities across the nation stood outside their local theaters in support of the Ghostlight Project, a national movement intended to stand for diversity and inclusion both within and beyond the theater.
In New Haven, three local theater companies, the Shubert Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Repertory Theatre, came together to participate in the movement. Hundreds of local artists, students and patrons of the respective theaters gathered in front of the Shubert to shine beams from phones, glow sticks and flash lights. According to the project’s action statement, the event was intended to “create a light for challenging times ahead.” Over 500 theater companies participated and, of those, several live streamed their ceremonies.
“The Ghostlight Project is really a project of the theater and not of the school,” said Victoria Nolan, Yale Repertory Theatre managing director and deputy dean of Yale School of Drama. “It’s really an industry wide theater moment to say who we are, what we represent, what the work we do represents and the tradition of walking into a space where you are going to hear stories and those stories will include values.”
A ghostlight is an electric light left on unoccupied stages within otherwise dark theaters. Since most theaters don’t have access to natural light, the single bulb is intended to prevent accidents, such as missing one’s step on a dimmed stage or staircase.
During the event, a ghostlight was borrowed from Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, a local school that neighbors the theater. Around 20 students from the high school performed “Imagine” by the Beatles to close the ceremony while others handed out pens and papers bearing the words “I am… I fight for…” to attendants.
“A lot of our kids are scared. This is a frightening time to be an American, let alone an American who is not white,” said Rob Esposito, a theater teacher at Co-Op High School. “Our art school is a haven for students, not only of all different races, but also of all different sexualities, genders — people who are at the fringes of our society and don’t necessarily fit into the tiny mold that people would like to keep them in.”
Ejoel Molina, a senior from Co-Op High School, said he felt the event was not inherently political. Instead, the Ghostlight Project centered around a message of inclusion and that the theater could be a home for anyone. Similarly, Andrea Jones, also a Co-Op senior, said that she thought she and her peers had to grow up faster during the last two years due to the political and cultural climates.
Mayor Toni Harp was unable to attend, as she had a previous commitment in Washington. Long Wharf Managing Director Joshua Borenstein DRA ’02 and Nolan were among the individuals who spoke at the event.
Aleta Staton, a local performer, read “Praise for the Day,” written by Elizabeth Alexander ’84 for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Staton said that as a black woman, she felt the poem was resonant especially given the current political moment.
“I was feeling the special feeling of being asked to do this knowing that people of color don’t get on stage that often and to be included in the number is always good,” Stanton said. “I felt that very deeply while I was reading especially when I got to the part in the poem that talks about who we were in this country and how we participated in forming this country as it stands today.”
Other members of the community also shared their desires for the coming years post inauguration. Alice-Anne Harwood Sherrill, a local artist and an expectant mother, said that she looks forward to a brighter future for her family.
Likewise, Starry Krueger, director of local children’s theater Imaginary Theater Company, said that she wants her students to feel “safe and loved.” She added that she would like her students to feel as though they can pursue their dreams regardless of their background.
Planning for the event occurred only a few weeks in advance, though Nolan said the “close-knit” New Haven arts community helped facilitate the process.
The Shubert Theater was selected because of its location as a midway point between Long Wharf and the Yale Rep.
Nolan also said that this is not the first time that the theaters have come together for communal action. Twenty-four years ago, when she first arrived in New Haven, a group of arts leaders established the Arts Industry Coalition, which still meets for matters of state funding and local affairs.
“The interesting thing about the fact that we’re coming together as multiple theaters is that we learn from one another about the community and how we’re engaged in the community,” Nolan said. “It’s an opportunity to affirm who we are and that we are a place where the ghost light will be shining for you.”
Around 33 Connecticut theaters participated in the Ghostlight Project.