Special Reports

The Theater Is One of the Spookiest Places to Visit This Halloween Season. Here's Why

We take a look at stories and superstitions that make going to the theater a frightfully good time.

A moment from Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
A moment from Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
(© Joan Marcus)

As Halloween approaches, it seems like an appropriate time to examine the inherent spookiness of the theater.

Maybe one of the most obviously spooky shows is The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running musical in Broadway history, which is set to close this February after more than three decades. It tells the story of beautiful soprano Christine Daaé, who is visited by an infamous presence who lives in the shadows of the Paris Opera House. As the show goes on, the Phantom's chilling antics blur the line between believable and paranormal.

While The Phantom of the Opera may be the most popular musical about eerie happenings in the theater, in real life it's common for theaters to have ghost stories of their own. Olive Thomas, a chorus girl from the 1920s, is said to haunt the New Amsterdam theater. It's believed by some that Olive enjoys creating a little mischief now and then, so employees of the theater have hung a photo of her by the exit in the hopes that saying good morning and good night to her every day will assuage her ghostly shenanigans.

We spoke to some former theater employees to hear about their experiences while working late at night. One staffer at the Shubert Theatre told us that they've had multiple supernatraul experiences: "I always felt the same thing, as I walked down the main staircase from the balcony to the mezzanine, I would see a set of eyes staring back at me…through the small windows in the doors that open to the restrooms on house right. I would tell the stage door attendant, only to be told….I was the only one in the building."

An employee at the Gershwin Theatre had this terrifying story: "I used to work the lobby shift. I had to go up to use the washroom, and the door to the house happened to be open. I peeked inside and all I could see onstage was the ghostlight and…something else that looked like a figure. At first, I thought it was just a weird shadow, but it moved and I bolted out of there."

Another Gershwin employee had this spooky tale to tell: "Shortly before I was preparing to leave one night, I heard children laughing and someone playing a few chords on the piano in the rehearsal room. It was close to midnight, so I thought it was very strange. I went to the rehearsal room and saw that the lights were off. How was someone playing the piano in the dark? That's when I felt a presence, it was non-threatening, and I felt like the ghost wanted me to come to find it. 'No, thank you! I thought, and promptly headed out the stage door.

So how do we keep ourselves safe from the ghosts and superstitions that fill the theaters we visit? The answer is a "ghostlight," a solitary light that is left on onstage whenever the theater is empty. It's very useful for theater employees to find their way around when they first arrive to start their workday, but superstition states that it must be kept on to appease the theater's spectral inhabitants.

This fall, while you're attending your shows, keep in mind that historically, the theater is one of the most notoriously spooky places there is. TheaterMania, as well as the TheaterMania Gold Club, can provide many opportunities to visit a theater that may be haunted. So embrace the spookiness this Halloween season and go to a show.