RANCH TRIANGLE — Steppenwolf Theatre is leading a movement to adapt an old theater tradition to address fears about President-elect Donald Trump.
Steppenwolf held a ceremony Thursday, on the eve of Trump's inauguration, joining the nationwide Ghostlight Project advocating for "inclusion and diversity."
A "ghost light" is a single bulb left on in theaters primarily as a safety measure so that someone doesn't inadvertently walk off a stage or into some other form of danger. According to the theater publication Playbill: "Some argue that its function is to chase away mischievous spirits; others insist it lights the way for the ghosts that are said to inhabit virtually every theater, keeping them happy and contented."
At a ceremony Thursday, new Steppenwolf ensemble member Audrey Francis helped light a ghost light she said would bring "visibility and safety to all who might enter" the theater.
The ghost light will burn in the theater lobby "until no longer needed," according to the company.
"This light will also symbolize hope for the belief that our actions might actually create change," Francis added.
Steppenwolf actor Ian Barford read from W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939," including the line: "We must love one another or die."
"The theater in general has always espoused values of inclusion and diversity, and the Ghostlight Project now asks us to stand ever more actively and aggressively behind our commitment to those values," said Steppenwolf ensemble member Tina Landau, one of the founders of what amounts to a nationwide peaceful protest, in an earlier statement. "The project is designed not only as beautiful, poetic action on [Friday], but also as a beautiful, prosaic set of ongoing actions into the future."
Steppenwolf planned for the lighting ceremony to take place Thursday evening in the parking lot next to its theater at 1650 N. Halsted St., but rain moved it inside to the 1700 Theatre, which was standing room only with about 100 in attendance.
According to a theater news release, the Ghostlight Project intended to serve as "an evening of advocacy at theater companies across the country to demonstrate a shared commitment to greater inclusion, participation and compassion in our theaters and our communities."
No one made specific mention of Trump, but the event's scheduling on the eve of his inauguration, and its announced goal to encourage "inclusion and diversity," was clearly aimed at the president-elect, who campaigned on issues of building a wall on the border with Mexico to deter immigrants and to generally block Muslims from entering the country.
The Ghostlight Project claims the involvement of hundreds of theater companies across the country.
"We know, now more than ever, that we will not be cowed by the intimidation or threats of those who fear what we have to say nor will we be broken by the hatred and fear being used to fracture and separate us," Steppenwolf artistic director Anna Shapiro said.
Landau said the gesture is specifically aimed at those asking, “What can I do?” — whether inside the acting community or not.
"The Ghostlight Project aims to help answer that question, and specifically for a nationwide network of theaters and theater folk," she added. "As a U.S. president from Chicago once said, ‘We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.'"
"It feels so much better to be moved than angry," Shapiro said.
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