I first encountered the script for Ghosts by Elford Alley, when I was applying as a director for a Halloween one-act festival, last year at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. While reading all the scripts, to decide which plays I would propose to direct in the festival, Ghosts instantly stood out to me. While perusing the script, I felt like I was reading a Twilight Zone-esque short story.
I devoured each page with a consuming urgency to find out what happens to Levi during his search for Abby’s ghost. Would he die with his search for Abby in vain? Or would he find her in death or the afterlife? I had to know! As a ghost story junkie, I found Elford’s fantastic world where both the living and the dead mingle captivating, which inspired me as a director. I ultimately proposed to direct Ghosts for the one act festival, and I was even lucky enough to be chosen to direct it.
Fast forward several weeks of a grueling yet rewarding rehearsal process, and… the Halloween one-act festival was enormously successful! The festival sold out and Ghosts received rave reviews. It was named the most favored show by a majority of audience members in a post-show survey. Riding on the high of our triumph, Charlotte Corneliusen (the show’s producer) and I began discussing the idea of taking Ghosts to the Capital Fringe Festival. We first sought Elford’s approval and he enthusiastically agreed, thus beginning our journey to developing a fully mounted production of Ghosts.
Shortly after the winter holidays, Elford began expanding Ghosts from a one-act to a full-length play. Elford labored tirelessly on revising the script, while sending his drafts to Charlotte and me for review. By March, we had a final draft of the script, which includes deeper character development, extended scenes, and a brand-new terrifying scene that will make your heart stop. Elford nearly doubled the number of pages in the script, which gave me a lot of rich, new material to work with as a director.
I’ve pulled elements from my original directorial concept for Ghosts, but working with mostly new material has also given me the opportunity to develop new ideas for design and staging. I’m really excited about bringing back my idea of the ghost ensemble wandering and engaging with the audience between scenes, to make our viewers feel enveloped in this world inhabited by both the living and the dead.
We will be performing in the Blind Whino, which has a huge performing space configured into a thrust. Working with a thrust yields the possibility of bringing the action to the audience, which intensifies my concept of providing an interactive experience for our audience. We’re also giving the ghosts a specific look by employing black cloaks in the costume design. Images of the character Death from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal originally inspired me to work with cloaks to evoke the appearance of ghosts appearing and disappearing in the space. For this production, we’ve commissioned custom-made cloaks to give each ghost a uniform appearance and shape. We’re also building an entirely new ghost box (the device that Levi uses to conjure spirits to the physical world) to look technologically complex yet also otherworldly.
Perhaps what I am most excited for in this production is the fact that we get to include sound and lights. We have a stellar design team collaborating with us: Michelle (DJ Missguided) is working with us on sound design, while Nick Friedlander works with us on lights. I cannot wait to see both Michelle’s and Nick’s respective designs come into fruition during tech. Together, Michelle’s sound and Nick’s light design will accentuate the haunted and dangerous world within Ghosts. I never thought I’d say this, but I am genuinely excited for our tech day!
While two of our current cast members (Marsha Rehns and Jerry Gideon) performed in the original production of Ghosts, the rest of the cast is new to the play. Working with a mostly new cast has provided both a fresh and challenging experience. Giving actors a chance to revive characters they’ve played before while continuing to flesh-out their characters with new material, gives both actor and director a fun challenge. Simultaneously working with new actors approaching this script for the first time has been particularly fun to witness. While the heart of the story remains constant, watching a character take a completely different shape based on the respective actor’s interpretation ultimately takes me (and eventually our audience) on a completely new journey. Now that our journey is almost complete, I cannot wait to share Ghosts with new—and hopefully returning—audiences.
I’m so proud of the work my creative team and I have put toward this production. Come check us out and see what this haunting is all about this July at the Capital Fringe Festival.
Kathleen Barth is a freelance theatre director based in the DC area. Since graduating from George Mason University with a BFA in Theatre, Kathleen has dedicated herself to staging new works and illuminating voices that have been traditionally silenced. A few notable credits include Moonlight Wisteria with Who What Where Theatre Collective, and A Fine Death, which premiered at the 2017 NVTA One Act Festival and won four awards including “Best Overall Production”. Kathleen will next be directing Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight this October at Vienna Theatre Company.