24 March 2020
Posted by Jack Thacker
With the coronavirus crisis escalating and the theatres now closed, one of the questions I’ve been asking myself is: what does it mean to be writer in residence during a lockdown? I was thinking about this yesterday when a lightbulb came on in my head.
In theatrical parlance, a ‘ghost light’ is a light source, usually a standing lamp, positioned centre stage, which is left on overnight or when the theatre is not being used. The prosaic purpose behind these lights is to do with health and safety; if someone finds themselves onstage in the dark, looking for the switchboard, the ghost light ensures a reduced risk of injury (and legal action).
But there is another, more provocative, explanation behind these lights. According to superstition, each theatre houses a resident ghost, and the story goes that the ghost light provides a light source for these spirits, so they can perform shows to themselves in the darkness, helping to keep the theatre ‘live’.
I have no way of knowing if there is currently a ghost light on the stage in the Wessex Theatre at Lighthouse. I don’t even know if one is used generally. But it’s there in the name. A lighthouse is a kind of ghost light, a single lamp lighting the way for both the living and the dead.
Not being ‘in residence’ has already changed the nature of this residency. But for now, I’m happy to give the theatre – and the other spaces at Lighthouse – over to the ghosts. In the meantime, I’m going to enact a haunting of my own by working remotely. I’m going to have to get used to being a ‘writer in absence’, but my hope is that this doesn’t mean too much writing in isolation (though it’s still a vital part of the job). I’m currently in discussion with arts centre to record poetry readings online and I’ll be maintaining this blog with regular updates, thoughts and ideas (and the odd new work).
In these trying times, we can all take inspiration from lighthouse keepers and theatre ghosts. Stay safe, stay indoors.