Lamar University Lore: Why the theatre leaves the light on

When the cast and crew are applauded, the production is over and everyone goes home, a light is left on in the theatre. But for whom?

According to theatre professor Alan Brincks, the “ghost light” tradition is something that is familiar to any theatre worker, but the origin of the tradition is not entirely known. 

“It is hard to say where the tradition of leaving the light on originated. Some say it comes from the days when stage lights were gas, and even when turned down there was a small flame,” Brincks said. “Another story claims that a burglar once broke into a theatre and sued the theatre after falling and breaking his leg. Whatever the origin, the use of a ghost light is still widely practiced in theatres across the U.S.”

Brinks said some people simply like the practice because it suggests a spiritual element of always keeping a light burning in a place so many hold in high esteem, or simply because it evokes a sense of calm when exiting or entering the space.

But does the lore have a spookier origin? Theatre Light

“Whether in earnest or jest, every theatre I’ve worked at has always claimed to have one or several ‘resident ghosts’ and often they also have names, descriptions and personalities to boot. The ‘ghost light’ tradition is as follows: at the end of each night of rehearsal or performance, all the lights are turned out on stage except one ‘ghost light.’ This is usually a bare bulb on the end of a pipe that can be wheeled around,” the professor noted. “Some say it is to keep ghosts away, other say it is to keep the ghosts company, and others even claim it is a way to draw the spirits of actors who have passed on back to a safe space.”

Brincks, who said he himself has never had a ghostly experience in the theater, and others have witnessed and felt strange things. 

“I haven’t had any ghost sightings here, but there are certainly times where I have been in the theater after rehearsal late at night and heard strange noises,” he said. “I’ve certainly heard some stories of experiences from others. A number of students over the years have said they have seen or heard the ghost. Sometimes during rehearsals, students have said that they heard something moving around in the building. There was an incident many years ago where the previous department head fell down the half-stairs to the prop loft when she was exhausted, but some people think the ghost may have been involved.

A former student used to think one of our faculty was the ghost because they would move through the space so quietly, and often the student would feel my presence when they were trying to sneak through the space. It was especially unnerving when the student was in the lift working on lights.”

Whatever the origin of the tradition, it really comes down to safety, he explained. 

“While these claims may be hard to verify, an indisputable purpose of this light is safety,” Brincks said. “Theatres are places where people are constantly working and moving things around, and most theatre spaces are designed to be very dark, even in the daytime. The ‘ghost light’ ensures that if someone walks onto the stage when the rest of the lights are out, they don’t run into anything that has been moved while they grope about for the light switch or, in the case of a Proscenium theatre with an orchestra pit, that they don’t fall down 10 plus feet getting seriously injured (or worse!)” 

Soon, the stage with the ever-present light will host an outstanding production from its fall lineup at Lamar University: Lost Lake

In Lost Lake, a woman rents a cabin by the lake for her and her kids to get away and relax, but on arrival is confronted with a disheveled and problematic property and property owner. 

It is a two person cast highlighting two of LU’s more experienced actors and the guest director is Caitlin Grammer, who is a Lamar University alum. The production also incorporates designs from two of the department’s new faculty, Lee Barker and Tanner McAlpin.

Lost Lake, which will run from Nov. 3-5 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 6 at 2 p.m., has some elements fit for the Halloween season, Brincks explained. 

“While the play is not written specifically with Halloween in mind,” Brincks said, “there are elements (run down cabin by a lake in the middle of nowhere, creepy owner who is always hanging around, each character withholds some mysterious secrets) that are right at home for the season.”

Tickets are available online at or at the door during the hour before performances.