GhostLight Theatre illuminates Southwest Michigan

Photography courtesy of GhostLight Theatre
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The black box stage used at Ghostlight Theatre allows the audience to feel that they are part of the performance.

Don’t be fooled by the modest gray brick building on Hinkley Street in the Benton Harbor Arts District. Once an ordinary printing press, the space has been fully redesigned to house the ubercreative GhostLight Theatre. Already into a second season, GhostLight is on a mission to showcase uniquely engaging productions and story-telling education.

Founded in 2018 by Paul Mow and Marty Hesse, GhostLight (ghostlightbh.com) was named after the light left energized on a stage when unoccupied and otherwise dark. “Theater has the power to educate people of all ages,” said Mow, an accomplished tenor with the New York City Opera and past director for the Twin City Players and Southwest Michigan Symphony. “I saw a need for a more immersive performing experience in this area. That’s why having a black box theater is so important.”

While a traditional proscenium stage is framed, like a TV set, with a distance between the action and audience, a black box theater breaks the “fourth wall” between performers and audience. “This way, guests feel more a part of the action because they see everything from set changes, direction, lights going up and down, and so on,” Mow said. “It’s very exciting and performers and musicians love the intimate setting.”

The black box concept may not be avant-garde, but the flexible space and purposeful lineup helps GhostLight offer what Mow calls “theater with a purpose.” In its inaugural season, GhostLight put on four very different shows, from the romantic Bridges of Madison County to the political satire Urinetown. In between shows, GhostLight hosted community meetings, fundraisers and talkbacks.

Theater has the power to educate people of all ages.
— Paul Mow

The venue also partnered with Chicago-based CircEsteem to offer kids a summer program that helps build self-esteem and mutual respect. “The kids learn a variety of circus-themed arts like juggling and tight-rope walking,” explained Mow, “but leave with improved social skills and self-esteem so that they’re better able to realize their own potential.”

As recipients of the 2019 Golden Acorn Award for Arts and Innovation, community leaders support the theater’s cause. “As the new kids on the block we were so honored,” said Hesse, an accomplished pianist and retired teacher from Chicago. “Luckily, the Berrien Community Foundation saw that we’re here to make a difference and open doors for creative expression.”

Uplifting the younger generations is important to Hesse, who grew up with a love for music thanks to an unexpected meeting with a neighbor’s piano at the tender age of five. “When our neighbor saw me sitting at her piano and playing, she called my mother and told her to get me lessons. I learned to read music at the same time I was learning to read words,” said Hesse. “That’s why it’s so important to open doors for people because you never know where their talents lie.”

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