A longstanding tradition in the theater world is to leave a "ghost light," a bare bulb with a cage around it, lit on stage during off hours.
"The legend of it is that it's lit to keep the ghosts company," said Kieran Adcock-Starr of the Chameleon Theatre Circle. "Actors are superstitious people, and theaters are very haunted places."
He said a ghost light on a bare stage will likely provide the opening set for the Chameleon Theatre Circle's first play of their season, "The Woman in Black," which runs Oct. 7 to Oct. 23 at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center's Black Box Theatre.
The play opens with Arthur Kipps as an older man recounting memories to an actor in an attempt to exorcise an experience he had as younger man. "He's haunted by terrible events that occurred in his life," said Adcock-Starr, of St. Paul. "He's never told anyone in his family about this. [He wants to] sleep without nightmares. He really just wants to flush it out of his system."
The play jumps back in time when the actor takes on the role of a young Arthur Kipps, a solicitor who travels to a desolate, remote village to attend the funeral of the reclusive Alice Drablow and sort through her papers. While there, he encounters eerie noises and strange sights, but any effort to get information from tight-lipped locals proves fruitless. Eventually, however, he starts to uncover the secrets of the place.
The play is based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill and contains all kinds of classic ghost story elements -- dreary weather, an isolated old manor house, shadowy presences, mysterious thuds and cries. Stephen Mallatrat turned it into a play, which has run for 23 years in the West End in London, and a film version starring Daniel Radcliffe is set for release in 2012.
"I'm unfamiliar with the genre, so it's been really fun," said director Benjamin Kutschied of Minneapolis. "I've never really seen a play that I've been frightened by. The show needs to terrify people."
"People don't usually go to the theater and expect to be scared," agreed Adcock-Starr, who plays the role of the young Arthur Kipps. "It's sort of Hitchcockian ... in the way he could build suspense."
The actors use minimal props and perform on a spare set, with boxes and chairs moved around and stacked into various configurations to represent certain set pieces. "I think what I like the most is the respect it gives the audiences," Kutschied said. "It's been a fun play for people to use their imaginations with."
Charles Numerich of St. Paul plays the older Arthur Kipps and a variety of characters that the young Arthur Kipps encounters. "I have to come up with six different English accents," he said. "It's fun. I love the sound of language."
"I just think it's a really cool story and presented in such a beautifully theatrical way," said Chameleon Theatre Circle president Andrew Troth. He said Numerich's role is especially fun and challenging because of the variety of roles.
"There just aren't many serious ghost plays," Numerich said. "It's a hard thing to pull off in a live setting. You have limited resources. It's not easy to surprise the audience. It's tough." But, as Adcock-Starr said, "It's the darkness, the uncertainty that gets to people."
Tickets are $17-$20. Go to www.burnsvillepac.com for details.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.