"All of them—absolutely all of them—are haunted," says ghost expert Lydia Williams over the phone.
As the owner of Ghostly Vancouver Tours, Williams has a special interest in the haunted spots of the city and she says when it comes to theatres, "there are no exceptions," they are all home to some kind of spirit.
There are a lot of superstitions in the theatre: no whistling, say break a leg instead of good luck, don't call the Scottish Play by its name, and always turn on a ghost light before closing up.
There's no way of knowing for sure if that last tradition is evidence of theatre hauntings or if it was just to stop people from tripping in the dark but stories of theatre ghosts are certainly a dime a dozen.
Williams says that a prevailing theory on why theatres are hotbeds for hauntings is the energy. Supposedly, ghosts are attracted to energy because they can't produce any of their own and need to borrow it. "Theatres are places of very high energy," she says. Adding that there is a misconception that spirits return to where they died.
She says that instead, they return to where they were happiest, as is the case of the famous Lady in Red who allegedly haunts the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. "And you know actors, they'd love to be centre stage for all eternity."
The Stanley Theatre ghosts
According to Williams, the Stanley theatre has a lot of paranormal activity including two ghosts who haunt the orchestra. They apparently hate wartime plays and kick the seats during performances. They've even been seen on stage by audience members she says, dressed in top hats.
There's also a woman who haunts the balcony area.
Williams conducted a paranormal investigation at the Stanley and reportedly caught her on an SLS camera which picks up on shapes. She says that if someone was to point the camera at a coat rack it would probably register as a person because of its form but they picked up on the shape of the ghostly woman on a blank wall.
Williams recalls an actor at the Stanley saying that they saw the woman jumping off the balcony and another said that the presence felt dark instead of positive.
The Vogue and the Hollywood theatre ghosts
Both the Vogue and the Hollywood are old movie theatres that have been converted into live performance spaces and Williams says she is very drawn to the theory that repeated rituals and incantations can bring in spirits even if they weren't intended to. She says that a showing of Poltergeist or the witches scene from Macbeth over and over again would be enough to do it and that's why some of these converted spaces are so haunted.
Bill Allman, the general manager of the Vogue has told Williams about his personal run-ins with ghosts at the theatre that includes hearing someone playing drums though no one was onstage when he went to check.
There is also a long corridor area backstage called "the haunted highway," because of all of the activity. One of the ghosts is apparently a stern man who has been known to scare people.
Sean Mawhinney was the building manager for the Commodore and Vogue Theatre at one time but is now at the Hollywood and he told Williams that when he was working at the Vogue there was something going on constantly. As Williams remembers the story, one night he and a colleague were cleaning the floors when an entire row of flipped-up seats in the audience slammed down on their own. It startled them but they went back to cleaning and then out of nowhere, they flipped back up again.
He's not sure about the Hollywood yet but Williams says she's talked to serving staff who believe something is going on.
The Orpheum and the Commodore ghosts
Williams says that the Orpheum is haunted by the ghost of a woman who sits in the audience and watches rehearsals. She's said to give standing ovations to her favourite performers.
There is also apparently a ghost of a man in the men's washrooms who is believed to be a former bathroom attendant. Williams says that he really doesn't like female ushers or other women coming into the bathroom and will slam the doors in their faces. She claims she even caught him on tape saying f***k off during a paranormal investigation.
Williams explains that there is a difference between an active and a residual haunting. The Orpheum washroom ghost is an example of an active haunting because it interacts whereas somewhere like the Commodore has a residual haunting where people have just seen shadow beings. Williams describes residual haunting as energy caught in a loop. A flash of a phantom usherette is just an imprint in time.