A ghost named George

Theater people are superstitious. In fact they're so superstitious that many traditions — like never saying “Macbeth” in a theater or “good luck” before a show — are firmly cemented as part of the drama culture. Not surprisingly, it's rare to find an old theater that doesn't have a ghost story or two associated with it. Huntington Beach High School's historic theater is haunted by a ghost named George.

Students of the school's Academy of Performing Arts have dealt with this mischievous specter for decades. “We've had some weird instances here,” the program's technical director, Joe Batte said.

According to legend, George was a student who auditioned for the role of Romeo in Shakespeare's famous tragedy. He wasn't cast, but his girlfriend, who auditioned for Juliet, did get the part. Over the course of rehearsals, George's girlfriend fell for the boy playing Romeo.

Distraught over the loss of his love, George tied a noose and hung himself from the catwalks above the stage on the play's opening night.

George has haunted the theater ever since, playing pranks and making sure casts and crews know he's there.

Lights have been known to flicker on and off for no reason and sets have been damaged or have even disappeared. People working late onstage will often report seeing figures or movement in the back of the theater.

One night after a show, Batte was backstage when he saw one of the ropes from the set riggings start to shake. At first he thought someone had climbed up and was moving the ropes, but he found there was no one there. He decided to high-tail it out of there. Batte says this isn't an isolated incident.

“When you're the only one in here late at night, you feel like there's something there,” Batte said.

It's tough to trace the story back to its origins, but it has been around for decades. Students and faculty alike take it seriously. “I'm a believer,” the program's director, Robert Rotenberry, said. He doesn't have a choice; George is very demanding.

A noose hangs from the catwalks above the stage and the entire cast signs a program in George's honor. Tradition holds that if someone doesn't sign it or the rope is removed, the show will be ruined. After each opening performance, the “George Programs” are stored in a secret place in the theater. Batte says that while there's no way to prove a ghost exists, there are too many coincidences to ignore.

“One kid refused to sign it and opening night was a disaster,” Batte said. “Everyone was mad at him.”

APA students are performing in other venues until the renovations to the theater are completed, but that doesn't mean they've forgotten about George. For their opening performance of “Man of La Mancha,” which ran at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster, students signed a “We Miss You, George” program.

The theater was opened in 1926 and is being restored to make it what Batte calls a showcase. It will open with all new seats and art elements. Batte expects it to be running 300 nights a year.

According to Melinda Leslie of Orange County Paranormal Research, construction or remodeling that disturbs a ghost's home can often result in haunting flare-ups. Batte said he hopes that won't be the case with George. “Hopefully George will take it well. We've got good intentions,” Batte said.

Theaters are often found to be haunted, says Leslie, because so much energy and emotion is expended while putting on a play. Many theaters are very old with long histories. Predictably, the ghosts of theater people can also have a tendency to be more dramatic than the run-of-the-mill phantom.

Sometimes theaters can just be creepy. They're dark places with numerous nooks and crannies, catwalks and clutter.

“It's a great place to live if you're a ghost,” Rotenberry said.

Apparently George agrees.


Oct. 26

Give your costume a test run Friday at The Local H.B.'s Halloween Boo! party. The party is at Queen's Berth/Berth 55, 555 Pico Ave., Long Beach, and will include live bands, a DJ, dancing, food, a bar and even tarot card readings. The party is $20 pre-sale; $25 at the door. For more information go to www.geocities.com/victoria_apbi. To make a reservation, call Victoria Alberty at (714) 625-9255.

Bella Terra, 7777 Center Ave., and the Community Services Department will host a costume contest for children up to age 12. The contest will let kids compete for prizes in Funniest, Cutest, Scariest, and Most Original categories. Each child will leave with a goody bag. Check-in for the event starts at 12:30 p.m. For more information, call Pat Rogers at (714) 897-2534.

Oct. 28

Resurrection Lutheran Church, 9812 Hamilton Ave., host a Halloween Festival with bounce houses, carnival games, and a costume parade. The festival is at 5:30 p.m. and it's $5 for children. A barbecue dinner will be available for children and adults for $3. For more information, call Karen Ursini, (949)720-0144, or Connie Wolfe, (714)962-5005.

Oct. 31

The Annual Halloween Celebration will shut down Main Street at Pacific Coast Highway to make room for Halloween fun for the whole family.

The festivities are from 5 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (714) 969-0795.

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