Show artwork for The Ghost Light
PHOTO: Brett Walker

The Ghost Light

With practical and superstitious origins, the ghost light has become a symbol of survival in the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Nick Tranter

During the COVID-19 pandemic, theatres around the world have placed ghost lights on their empty stages. For now, these shining beacons symbolise the art form's survival, but ghost lights existed long before lockdown.


There are many superstitions in theatre (don't say Macbeth in a theatre, don't whistle in the wings, never bring a peacock feather on stage) but a persistent one is that theatres have ghosts. Some say the ghost light is used to scare away ghosts, but more often the light is used to appease ghosts. Traditionally, the light allows ghosts to perform their own drama on the stage at night (or on the dark day when a theatre is closed), and stops them crashing into the set.

Ghost lights are used for safety reasons for theatre staff too. The light keeps the stage illuminated so the first person to enter a dark theatre doesnt bump into set pieces or fall off the edge of the stage.

Greener lighting

The ghost light on the Sumner stage uses LED (light-emitting diode) technology, high-efficiency lighting thats better for the environment than incandescent bulbs. With the emergence of this greener technology, MTC is adding more and more LED fixtures to its arsenal for lighting productions. Southbank Theatre Lighting Supervisor, Richard Gorr, says Production staff at MTC HQ build low voltage, sustainable and reusable practicals, which also are seen in most MTC shows.

‘These are often either single or strip LED lighting in various colours and dimensions to add depth and life to the stage,’ explains Gorr. ‘Kerry Saxby (Technical Manager – Light/Sound) and Allan Hirons (Senior Production Technician) do an incredible job of proof testing and research and development of new, incredible and unimaginably small lights for our shows. We are currently trying to move our venue to be more LED and environmentally friendly, but it is quite an expensive albeit necessary task as we move away from filament globes towards a more sustainable future.’

Turning off the ghost light

Your support can help put MTC productions back on the Southbank Theatre stage. Now more than ever, Melbourne Theatre Company needs your support. We rely heavily on ticket sales to ensure the Company can continue to operate, and production cancellations have a drastic impact on the organisation and our community of artists, creatives and staff.

If you are in a position to do so, please consider making a donation to help MTC recover from this unprecedented time in our history. With your support, MTC will remain a home for the many creative professionals whose livelihoods depend on the Company.

Published on 11 May 2020

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