Auditorium Theater. Joffrey Ballet completed a run of Anna Karenina the night before, so the sprung deck is still on the stage. Credit: Matthew Gilson

Whether they’re holding the paranormal at bay or preventing a misstep into the orchestra pit, ghost lights have been keeping Chicago stages safe for more than a century. Traditionally a single light bulb fitted in a cage atop a tall stand, the ghost light is a fixture placed on stage just before the theater goes dark and acts as bare-bones illumination. And, just in case, to keep spirit mischief to a minimum.

Some tempt fate. Arriving at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare to co-direct a production of Macbeth last year, Teller—half of the magician duo Penn and Teller and known for his character’s silence—strolled into the theater and announced to all, “Let’s get this over with: Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth.” To utter the name even once could, as an old theater superstition goes, tempt catastrophe.

Got a ghost light? All good. As the Lyric Opera’s master electrician, Mike Reynolds, says, “if you don’t put [a ghost light] out bad things start to happen around the Opera House. You’re showing your appreciation for the ghost taking care of you, much like children putting out milk and cookies for Santa.” v

Writers Theater, Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre, Glencoe. Set: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, scenic designer Todd Rosenthal.

A newer theater, Writers has its ghost light installed in the grid overhead. Architect Jeannie Gang salvaged bricks from the abandoned building that was demolished to make way for the theater, using them in the textured interior walls.Credit: Matthew Gilson