BWW Feature: Aaron Nichols on GHOSTLIGHT
These are his words:
"It is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness." This proverb is a perfect introduction to The Ghostlight Project. Dreamed up just a few weeks ago by our country's theatrical luminaries, this initiative was a response to the apprehension many in our arts communities were feeling. The project's aim: to provide safe spaces for those feeling scared, marginalized, or actively attacked.
When I first heard about The Ghostlight Project, I was immediately struck by the power of its symbol: a literal lightbulb -- guardian of all our sacred stages -- the humble ghost light. Originally a safely measure, ghost lights are now associated with many superstitions making them a beloved part of theatre lore. Therefore, it wasn't a stretch to frame the ghost light as a metaphor, the light in the darkness representing the goals of our community: protection, connection, inclusion, compassion, and justice for all.
As a young gay man growing up in the cornfields of Northern Indiana, I struggled to find a place where I felt welcomed. There were many times that I felt alone, frightened, and without protection. Then I discovered the Theatre. And not just one building, but the remarkable capital-T institution: school theatre programs, local civic theatres, professional touring productions. Every time I entered these sacred spaces, I felt included; I felt safe. So, 20+ years and dozens of productions later, I saw an opportunity to champion a renewed commitment to the Theatre as "safe space." Theatre had given that to me; now it was my privilege, my responsibility to do the same for others.
The initiative was launched at 5:30pm on Thursday, January 19 in every state in front of over 700 theaters. Every gathering made pledges to "stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation." I was proud to serve as the organizer for South Bend's gathering which included representatives from the following arts organizations: South Bend Civic Theatre, Michiana Playmakers, The Acting Ensemble, Stage for Change, United Youth Theatre, Elkhart Civic Theatre, the Notre Dame Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, Shakespeare at Notre Dame, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at IU South Bend, John Glenn High School, and Clay High School's Visual and Performing Arts Department
Seeing over 100 artists and arts advocates joined together in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center brought many to tears, the solidarity being both humbling and empowering. Participants celebrated, created their own Ghostlight pledge posters, learned about local arts-based social justice initiatives, and listened to arts leaders pledging their organizations as "brave spaces" of inclusion and compassion for all. To cap the evening's festivities, our gathered family of artists raised a wild variety of lights into to the air promising to welcome all, build bridges, and tear down walls of division.
Thursday's event was just the beginning. Ghostlight Project activities continue around the nation. Join the movement. Events and activities sponsored by the local chapter will be announced via our new Ghostlight Collective Facebook Group and email listserv. To learn more about how you can play a part, email firstname.lastname@example.org."
Aaron Nichols is the Audience Development Manager for Shakespeare at Notre Dame and believes in theatre's ability to engage, connect, uplift, and transform. Since returning from Chicago in 2002, he has been active as a director, actor, designer, and adjudicator. Favorite local directing credits include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (New World Arts), Acting: The First Six Lessons (The Acting Ensemble), Shadowlands (Bethel College), It Can't Happen Here (Notre Dame Film, Television, and Theatre), and the award-winning The Other Place (South Bend Civic Theatre). He is currently directing A Streetcar Named Desire for South Bend Civic Theatre.
Photo Credit: Peter Ringenberg