ArtsEmerson backs theater as inclusive space with Ghostlight

by Allison Hagan / Beacon Staff • January 26, 2017

More than 100 students, faculty, and members of the theater community came together to pledge to keep theaters inclusive in response to isolating comments and actions from President Donald Trump.

ArtsEmerson participated in The Ghostlight Project at the Cutler Majestic Theatre last week. Similar events were held at theaters, colleges, and high schools in every state.

A ghost light is left on in empty theaters that would otherwise be dark to ensure the safety of anyone entering the space. The Ghostlight Project uses this image to create a symbolic “light for dark times ahead,” according to their website.

The 757 Ghostlight concurrent ceremonies were organized in a wide-range of ways, from music to handing out lights to strangers, said Sammi Cannold, spokesperson and member of the Ghostlight Project. The next step for the Ghostlight Project, she said, is asking theaters how they plan to uphold the pledge of inclusion and providing resources to help them do so.

“I hope by participating in the project, Emerson provided an outlet for students to be able to stand in solidarity with many others from the theater community nationwide,” said Cannold.

The event began outside with a candlelight vigil and reading of The Ghostlight Project pledge. Participants pledged to value inclusivity and to protect theaters as a safe space for all people, regardless of race, gender, immigration status, or any other identity, according to The Ghostlight Project website.

The crowd moved inside the theater for a community read of the amendments to the United States Constitution and an opportunity for participants to reflect aloud. The Constitution was read to empower the community, said Kevin Becerra, artistic engagement director for ArtsEmerson.

“The amendments are a series of small or larger steps in making the country more inclusive,” Becerra said. “We wanted to focus on them, their legacy, and the people who fought so hard to make those amendments happen.”

Benny Sato Ambush, senior distinguished producing director-in-residence, read the 17th Amendment. He participated in the reading to highlight the principal values of American civics to those present, he said.

“Given where this country is politically, there are potentially a number of constitutional crises  that we are facing with this new administration,” Sato Ambush said. “It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of what is contained in the Constitution.”

P. Carl, co-artistic director of ArtsEmerson and director of HowlRound, said the message of the event was a direct response to the election of President Donald Trump.

Carl said that given the vast contrast in values, theaters are spaces where difficult conversations can happen and divisiveness can be healed.

“It really came on as the idea of ... the ghost light, being the light that always stays on so people can be safe moving around the theater, so theaters can be a beacon in a difficult time in our country,” Carl said.

The event was livestreamed on HowlRound, an international knowledge commons housed at Emerson. Ramona Ostrowski, associate producer at HowlRound, said she thinks it’s important for the Emerson theater community to be a part of the national conversation about inclusivity.

“For an event that really aligns with our mission … we really felt like it was important to make that accessible to people.” Ostrowski said.