If you have ever wandered into an empty theater, walking among the empty rows in the shadowy auditorium, you may have noticed that standing upon the bare stage is a single light, saving you from total darkness. That, my friends, is a ghost light. In practical terms, a "ghost light" is an electric light left on when the theater is empty. Generally, it is left on for safety reasons. Nobody wants to tumble into the orchestra pit.
However, there is a long standing theater superstition that a ghost light must be kept on when a theater is empty in order to keep away spirits. Others believe that a ghost light should remain illuminated to keep the creative spirits or muses within the theater. In lighting design, a "ghost" refers to a patch of light that escapes from an improperly trimmed dimmer. (Which is not nearly as exciting as the spooky version of the word!)
If you would like to learn more technical stage terminology, visit our Theater Glossary. Or, if you would rather share your stories of actual theater ghosts (of the Halloween variety) tell us about it in our "Readers' Story" section.
Pygmalion, one of most humorous plays by George Bernard Shaw, was first adapted into a film in 1938, and then into a musical in the 1950s. In each incarnation, and even during its original theatrical run, audiences fell in love with the two bombastic main characters, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. In fact, fans of the play enjoyed the characters so much, they wanted them to end up together. They wanted the strong willed flower girl and the erudite professor to cast aside their differences and fall head over heels in love, perhaps even marry.
Shaw had other plans, however. He envisioned that the characters remained combative friends, but that neither one would concede romantic devotion for the other. Of course, if you watch the musical version, My Fair Lady, you'll see that there are definitely romantic feelings blossoming. Pygmalion is a great example of how the audience's imagination can sometimes overthrow the intentions of the playwright. Learn more about this play by reading the summaries of Act Three and Act Four.
"Where the devil are my slippers?" -- This is the last line of the film version of Pygmalion, a line delivered by the incomparable Professor Henry Higgins, directed at Eliza Doolittle, hinting that they are meant to be together. But are they?Many directors, producers, and audience members wanted to have Pygmalion end with romantic possibilities between the two main characters. However, George Bernard Shaw firmly believed that Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle do not marry one another. To clear up any questions that readers might have, he actually wrote several pages of prose explaining what happens to the characters. According to Shaw, Pickering and Higgins remain bachelors. Eliza marries Freddy; they open up a flower shop together. She spends a good deal of time visiting both gentlemen on Wimpole Street. Best of all, Eliza and Higgins still argue with each other, keeping the fires of their turbulent friendship constantly ablaze. Read more about the fascinating conclusion of Shaw's most beloved comedy, Pygmalion.
In literature, there are many ways to define a tragedy. (And no, I don't mean a play that receives terrible reviews.) Aristotle's notion of a tragedy involved a great but flawed hero who undergoes a tragic downfall, often caused by his own hubris. I rather prefer a Hegelian tragedy in which two opposing forces, both with valid claims of morality, collide. Such was the case with characters in Antigone; both make compelling points, but both end in despair. Hegel's definition of tragedy arguably offers more complexity than Aristotle's. (I will now leave the philosophy students to debate among themselves and move onto my next point.)
Personally, I define the genre of tragedy in simplistic terms. It is any story that evokes a profound sense of sadness, perhaps tinged with an appreciation of the beautiful fragility of the human condition. Some of the plays that fit into this type of tragedy often extol uplifting themes, such as Margaret Edson's Wit. Others leave me in a dark fog of the soul for days. I'd like to share the second half of my Top Ten tragic plays, and then I would love to hear which sob-inducing dramas would make the top of your personal list.
Have you ever noticed how some plays are such downers? Even some of the plays that are supposed to be comedies, such as Anton Chekov's masterpieces, are dour and cynical and downright depressing. Of course, the theater -- like life -- isn't all about comedy and happy endings. To be reflective of human nature, playwrights often delve into the tears-soaked corners of their souls, producing literary works that are timeless tragedies that evoke both terror and pity, just how Aristotle likes it!
The first to make this list of the ten finest tragedies is a play called 'Night Mother. There are many plays that explore the topic of suicide, but few are as direct and, dare I say, as persuasive as Marsha Norman's play, 'night Mother. During the course of a single evening, an adult daughter has a sincere conversation with her mother, clearly explaining how she plans to take her own life before dawn.
The second act begins the day after he first encounter between Prof. Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. The setting has shifted to the home of Prof. Henry Higgins. The professor has been showing off his phonetic equipment and scientific tools used to study hundreds of dialects. He is completely in his comfort zone.
In walks Eliza Doolittle, a girl who makes her meager living selling flowers on the street. At first the professor has no use for her. He met her during Act One, and he is no longer fascinated by her lower class dialect. However, when Eliza wants to be taught to speak like a lady, and even willing to pay a large portion of her humble income, Prof. Higgins becomes intrigued.
George Bernard Shaw wrote over forty plays during the course long life of 94 years. Pygmalion, written in 1913, became his most famous work. It was a hit when it debuted, it was an Oscar winning film in 1938, and in the mid 1950s it became the inspiration for the blockbuster musical My Fair Lady.
It's the tale of a conceited professor of linguistics, Henry Higgins, and the brash, incorrigible young woman named Eliza Doolittle. Higgins sees the cockney girl as a great challenge. Can she learn to speak and act like a refined English lady? Higgins endeavors to transform Eliza in his own image, and he gets much more than he ever bargained for.
Read the synopsis of Act One of Pygmalion to discover more about the remarkable comedy of manners.
Way back when I first began writing for About Plays / Drama, I created a list of "Top Ten Plays for Newcomers." It wasn't exactly a list of the best plays of all time, and it wasn't exactly a collection of my favorite plays (although there are a few personal favorites on the list). I wanted to make a primer for people who are new to the theater. Some of the plays are simply fun to watch -- like the classic backstage comedy Noises Off. And some of them are powerful theatrical experiences that make you hold your breath -- like the dinner table battle during William Gibson's The Miracle Worker.
Over the years, I've been thinking more about that original list, and I've made a few changes. As much as I love August Wilson's "Fences," I have dropped it from the list and added something that I believe is a bit more accessible for theater newcomers. Also, Neil Simon has been bumped for a controversial classic. So, who's on the list? See for yourself, and by all means, if you have other recommendations, leave a comment and share your opinions.
Forget about those pretty vampires from Twilight. I prefer my undead characters to be sinister, bloody thirsty, and terrifying to behold. And I also prefer that sunlight obliterates them instead of just making them sparkle.
If you are looking for some terrific Halloween scripts that appeal to the classic horror stories of the olden days, then check out my list of "Seriously Scary Plays." Dracula and Frankenstein made the top of the list, but see what else made the cut. And if you know of any terrifying stage productions, please leave a comment and share your opinion.
Today I read a delightful picture book called Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton. Written and illustrated by Catherine Brighton, it captures the thrills of turn-of-the-century live theater, as well as a glimpse of the silent film icon who would become known as Buster. Using a sparse first person narrative, young Keaton tells us of his life as a "stage baby," and recounts the time he tumbled down stairs without a scratch. He was caught in the arms of none other than Harry Houdini, he remarked on how well this kid could fall. By the time Buster was a toddler he became part of his show-biz parents' act, and it wasn't long before he was flying, flipping, tumbling, and prat falling, learning all of the slapstick artistry that would make him famous.
Last year in Los Angeles, playwright Vanessa Claire Stewart and director Jaime Robledo presented the world premiere of Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton, a valentine to the life and genius of this early Hollywood legend. The play starred French Stewart (of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame) and featured countless bits from Keaton's work. Although the play's run ended, I have my fingers crossed that it will make it to Broadway someday. Until then, you can still visit their website and watch the teaser trailer of Stoneface; you'll be amazed how much physicality and imagination they put onto such a small stage.