In the theatre world, a ghost light is left on stage when the building is empty. It’s primarily used for safety, but as Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth notes, “It’s also a symbolic gesture — a beacon of hope, offering the promise of future performances and a return to collective gathering.”
The stage and seats at The Smith Opera House in Geneva, N.Y., are currently empty because of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, but Woodworth has found a new way to shine a ghost light: a video series documenting the long and storied history of the local landmark.
Ghost Light Tours explore the quirky and surprising stories about The Smith, including the touring theatre company that arrived in Geneva in 1898 and brought smallpox with them. The tale of their five-week quarantine on a boat on Seneca Lake is the subject of the first episode of the series.
The videos have their roots in in-person tours Woodworth developed with the help of Margaret “Gretty” Hollister ’20 and Austin Jennings ’19 in 2018 and that were conducted in the summer of 2019 with the help of Daphna Bendull ’21.
“We moved through the linear timeline as we moved through the building,” says Woodworth, explaining that tours included the dressing rooms, the balcony and the projection booth. “It was a great opportunity for people who had only ever walked in and sat in the seats to get a new perspective on the building through its history.”
That same opportunity is now available to theatre and history buffs near and far through the video series. New episodes premiere on The Smith’s Facebook page Wednesdays at 7 p.m. The complete playlist can be found here.
“As I look back at the 125 years of The Smith Opera House, one thread emerges: community resiliency,” says Woodworth. “Together Geneva weathered the influenza outbreak of 1918. Together citizens restored The Smith. And together we will pull through this. Until then, we keep the ghost light on as a beacon of hope for what comes next.”
In the image above, Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth poses in the balcony of the Smith Opera House with Margaret “Gretty” Hollister ’20 and Austin Jennings ’19.