The story of how this girl came to be….
When I was 7 years old, my Grandma and Grandpa took me on a big adventure to New York City. We caught a matinee at a Broadway show.
It was a whole other world to escape to…. through a portal known as theater. I was hooked by the costumes…the actors…the fancy theater itself. I begged to go back the next day.
But the next day was Monday, and the theaters were closed. Being 7 years old, I asked why. And I’ll never forget my Grandma Helen’s answer:
“It’s tradition that the theaters are dark one day a week, so that the ghosts can put on their own plays….”
It made perfect sense to me.
Ten years later, I found myself working as a projectionist in a historic theater.
And perhaps the Living had gotten the weekly schedule mixed up with the Dead that week…
I remember the sound of rain pounding against the roof that night. It was hurricane season, so that wasn’t unusual.
What was unusual is what I saw.
It was the first night that a movie was to be shown in that old theater in 30 years.
And I was just hired as the projectionist to make that happen.
The theater was built in the 1920s, it was hit hard during the Depression, and had been switched to several different owners before it was abandoned and boarded up for years. The theater had been bought by a not-for-profit group and the renovations on the once proud theater began.
And someone was curious…
Hours before the show that night, the film reels made loud clanking noises as they spun. I remember leaning down to splice the film together and out of the corner of my eye, I saw shoes and pant legs. I didn’t even look up. I knew it was my friend, Jeff, who was the volunteer bartender. The two of us were getting the theater ready for the show with about 7 other people.
“I’m almost finished setting this up. I’ve got about 10 minutes left on this reel, and then I can…”
I looked up to face him, and he was gone. Through the glass in the projection booth, I could see Jeff and another guy on stage, far below the balcony, talking.
There was no way that someone could have been there seconds ago and just disappeared.
I felt someone there. Someone watching me do my setup.
I shrugged it off. Maybe I was just tired. Perhaps it was just a trick of light.
But I was shaking. I knew what I saw. I knew what I felt. But it seemed impossible.
That night ended up being a total disaster.
Some weird, unexplained electrical thing happened, that stopped the projector dead, 20 minutes into the film. Below me, a full house waited impatiently for the show to begin again. As soon as I got it back on, the film started shredding itself in the projector. I slammed the controls off again, so I wouldn’t cause any more damage to the film. I was sweating as I tried to splice the film and tape it back together.
I got that feeling again like someone was watching.
In desperation, I said out loud – “Please help me with this. Just, please, help this work.”
Seconds later, I turned on the projector and it hummed. There wasn’t another problem for the rest of the night.
After the show, once everyone cleared out, I told my friend, Jeff about what had happened.
He laughed in that way he always did. He was way older than me, and he knew a hell of a lot more. He had been working there for three years during the renovations, and he knew all about this ghost.
The story goes that a whole theater troupe saw a man “glide” up by the projection booth in the balcony and disappear while they were rehearsing. They demanded to know who was let in the locked theater for their rehearsals.
Of course, no one had been.
And that was just one of the many stories about this phantom man that I heard.
Perhaps he just wanted to be acknowledged.
And that first night, I ignored him, shrugged him off as a trick of light, as a trick of my mind.
Until he showed me what was what. It wasn’t my projection booth. I was just borrowing it from him. He had been there long before me.
And I respect my elders.
From that night on, every time I ran a film there, I would get an extra box of popcorn and soda and carry it to the booth. I would set up an empty chair for him, and in front of that chair, I put the popcorn and soda.
The projector ran smooth as butter for the rest of the years I worked there. I never had another problem.
I always felt like some old Projectionist was looking out for me.
This story came to my mind because on this tour, we’ve played several theaters – The State in Florida, The Colonial in California, The Rio in Vancouver, The Gothic in Colorado, and the Gramercy in New York.
I could feel someone with me as I danced with my feather fans. It was almost as if someone was guiding me at parts of the song, as if someone else took control of the fans in my hands for just a brief moment.
Someone who had been there far longer than I had.
And I respect my Elders.
So I let them.
One day, many long years from now, when it is my time to be among them, I’ll probably haunt the boards of an old stage, too.
I type these words in an old hotel room in Cleveland, about to fly back home to Brooklyn, after another two month tour of dancing and singing on those boards has come to a close.
Thank you to every single one of you who came out to see the show. For those of you who drove a billion hours, who flew, who waited on lines in front of venues in freezing temperatures. I wish I could heat up every single one of you with the pure love in my filthy heart.
Thank you to every single one of you who made it possible. To those I know the names of, and those I do not… the many kind people that we met on our travels in theaters, in punk rock dive bars and in coffeehouses all over.
To Emilie, to the Captain Magpie Scout, to Melissa the Headmistress, to Beau, to Rachel, to Josh, to Nicholas “French Fry” Clark, and to Ty who was King of the Road and drove us all over two beautiful countries in our tour bus home.
And thank you to the ghost who came out to show me a few moves that night as the audience roared.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
I’ll be back to dancing the fans and shedding my clothes with the ghosts of burlesque on the stage boards at The Slipper Room in New York City on Friday night. If you happen to be around, swing by and see my tour bruises up close and in person.
This ol’ showgirl will not disappoint.
Gushing love and rat game kisses for you all. xxx