Louisville Theatres Join “Ghost Light” Project

By Keith Waits

Photo by Bill Brymer.

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

On a rainy January 19, at 5:30 p.m. on the steps in front of Actors Theatre of Louisville, members of the Louisville theatre community took part in launching a nation-wide initiative entitled  The Ghost Light Project. Besides Actors Theatre, there were representatives from other local companies such as Kentucky Shakespeare, Looking for Lilith, The Liminal Playhouse, Theatre [502], the University of Louisville’s African American Theatre Program, among others.

The Project, also known as The Sanctuary Project, intends to unite the theater community nationwide in solidarity. The aim is to create spaces – both literal and symbolic – that will serve as lights in the coming years, and to activate a network of people across the country working to support vulnerable communities.

This gathering outside of theaters, intentionally positioned on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, joined people in a collective, simultaneous action, together creating “light” for challenging times ahead. Inspired by the tradition of leaving a “ghost light” on in a darkened theater, these artists and companies pledged to continued vigilance and increased advocacy.

The Ghost Light Project defines “sanctuary” as a space where:

  • It is safe to be who you are, regardless of race, class, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Diverse opinions, dissent, and argument are not only tolerated, but invited.
  • Active listening and courageous exchange are fundamental values.
  • Collective action, activism, and community engagement, both within and outside the walls of the theater, are cultivated, encouraged, and supported.

The idea is not limited to physical space, and companies like Looking for Lilith, who produce theatre in different venues, see the Project in more conceptual terms. “We stood as a contingency with ATL on Main Street,” explains Lilith representative Lindsay Chamberlin. “We do have a permanent office and rehearsal space on Frankfort Ave, but wanted to stand in solidarity with our fellow theatre professionals. Ghost Light defines a safe space not just as a building but as creating spaces that are safe…which is what we do.”

Liminal Playhouse Artistic Director Tony Prince expresses the activist core of the effort: “We’re opposed to attempts at divisiveness and fear. This is not a partisan issue, or shouldn’t be. We support freedom and open dialogue among all people. We just feel the need to make a statement about inclusiveness at a time in which many members of our community feel threatened.”

The Liminal Playhouse mission statement states that the company, “… embraces, explores, and celebrates the ambiguous, and sometimes paradoxical, nature of our shared humanity.  “We stand by that,” iterates Prince, “and that’s why we’re participating in the Ghost Light Project.”

“The reason theatre is appropriate to make this statement is that, as Meryl Streep eloquently stated, actors have to empathize with other people to create their art. It’s not a form that polarizes but one that seeks to bring together. We seek to explore what it means to be human.”

The event on January 19th marks only the beginning of The Ghost Light Project, which is seen as an ongoing commitment by institutions and artists to work for social justice and equity in the coming years, with each group or individual empowered to determine their particular course of action to serve these principles.

The Sanctuary Project is created and led by leading voices of the American theater community: Claudia Alick (OSF Community Producer), Sammi Cannold (Ragtime on Ellis Island), P. Carl (HowlRound and Arts Emerson), Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), Lear deBessonet (creator of Public Works, The Odyssey, Good Person of Szechwan), Rachel Hauck (Hadestown), Christine Jones (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project), Jenny Koons (Curator of Creative Collisions Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm), Lisa Kron (Fun Home), Tina Landau (The SpongeBob Musical), Lorin Latarro (Waitress), Zhailon Levingston (Words on White), Lisa Peterson (An Iliad), Sam Pinkleton (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), Clint Ramos (Eclipsed), Randy Reyes (Mu Performing Arts), Leigh Silverman (Violet), Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), Liesl Tommy (Eclipsed), Stephanie Ybarra (Director of Special Artistic Projects at The Public Theater), and David Zinn (The Humans).

As of this date, participating theaters and companies around the country include Arena Stage, Arts Emerson, Berkeley Rep, Borderlands, Campo Santo, Cherry Lane, Culture ClashDallas Theater Center, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, HowlRound, Kansas City Rep, Ma-Yi Theater Company, Mu Performing Arts, NAATCO, National Black Theatre, New 42nd Street, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Public Theater, Samuel French, Seattle Rep, NYC’s Signature TheatreSiti CompanySteppenwolf Theatre Company, Tectonic Theater Project, Two River Theater, Victory Gardens, and Youth Speaks.


KeithKeith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.