Friday, July 29, 2011

Is Sangamon Auditorium haunted?

The Legend of Ruby
By Chad Wester

Is Sangamon Auditorium haunted?  Many venerable performing houses have ghosts.  Whether they are theaters dating back to the 1800s like the National Theater in Washington D.C. or 20th century theaters like the Lincoln Theater in Decatur, few are immune from rumors of haunting.  According to legend, Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Springfield acquired its requisite ghost almost as soon as it opened.

In the fall of 1986, just five years after the opening of the auditorium, a woman allegedly collapsed in seat E-7 of the orchestra pit during the intermission of a performance.  She died before she could be transported to the hospital.

The UIS campus police have no record of a death in the auditorium, but few theater buffs doubt its occurrence.  They just can’t agree when.  Auditorium director John Dale Kennedy places the death at a time before the autumn of 1986; technical director Scott Wilson asserts that the death occurred in the autumn of 1986; and head flyman (a term for the person who controls the curtains and lights of the auditorium) Robert Taylor estimates the untimely death occurred earlier in 1986.

Wilson says he remembers exactly when Ruby, as the ghost is named, made her first appearance.  Two weeks after the unfortunate incident, during a rehearsal for the Flying Karamazov Brothers (a traveling acrobatic group), a small child of one of the performers came crying to his father saying that he was scared of the lady down in front of the stage.  The child pointed right to seat E-7.  The performers had no idea that a death had occurred in that very spot only days before.

Wilson says, “I didn’t believe in any of that stuff, but that really got to me.”  Although he has not been visited by Ruby personally, Wilson claims that several members of his staff encounter her on a regular basis.  It is convenient to blame missing equipment and unexplained noises on the ghost, so Wilson lets the Ruby-mania run wild backstage.

Not all of the staff approach Ruby with such nonchalance.  One person has seen Ruby up close on more than one occasion.  Taylor has twice seen Ruby, or what he believes to have been Ruby.  Several weeks after Ruby made her first appearance, Taylor was walking with a coworker on one of the rails where the curtains and lights are controlled.  Taylor says he saw something “like a cloud, like a light, but not quite as bright, about the size of a human body” descending a staircase in front of him.  The apparition came down the stairs and then flitted away into the shadows.  Taylor stopped so suddenly that his coworker ran into his back.  Taylor asked him what he had seen and the worker described the same spectacle.

Taylor describes an even more dramatic encounter with Ruby that occurred months after the first sighting.  Late one evening, while the crew was taking down the orchestra shell on stage, one worker was assigned to turn out the lights in the sound booth in the center of the auditorium.  Robert Schleyhahn (no longer employed by the auditorium) dashed up the stairs to turn off the lights.  As he did so, the same light that Taylor had seen months before began moving rapidly across the auditorium towards the running man.  Another stage crew member saw the apparition and called out to Schleyhahn to look out.  Schleyhahn made contact with the apparition and came to a complete halt.  Taylor described the look on Schleyhahn’s face as stunned.  “He kept asking what happened,” says Taylor.  “I asked him what it felt like, and he said that it felt like he ran into a person, even though there was no one there.”  Taylor says that the hair on the back of his neck has stood on end only two times in his life- both in the presence of Ruby.

It has been several years since Ruby has been spotted by any of the staff, but strange things are still blamed on the ghost.  Taylor admits that the stage crew often tries to scare new employees with the Ruby phenomenon.  Practical jokes like leaving speakers turned on low and making strange noises into microphones are common backstage.

Taylor is not sure why Ruby has not been spotted in the last few years, but he says that he would not be surprised if she came back.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires auditoriums to keep at least one light on at all times for safety reasons, even when there is no staff working in the building.  This lone bulb is often referred to as the “ghost light.”  Rumor has it that the light is to keep the ghosts happy, but some say it is to keep the ghosts at bay.  Whichever is the case, Wilson says that he keeps the light on because “OSHA is more of a specter to me than any ghost.”

Chad Wester is a former graduate assistant at Sangamon Auditorium.

(Previously published in Springfield Magazine, June 2001.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update on opportunity for K-12 teachers

John Bertles, Bash the Trash

As part of the longtime mission to support K-12 arts programming that meets the educational and cultural goals of Illinois schools, Sangamon Auditorium recently entered into partnership with Springfield Public School District 186 to work together to offer arts programs for the education of teachers.  As one of only three Illinois partnership teams in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Partners in Education program, Sangamon Auditorium and Springfield Public Schools are hoping to effect systemic change in educational priorities and teaching practices so that arts teaching and learning will continue to be valued by local schools and its impact deepened. 

Outcome of the First Year:
·         Three professional development workshops led by Kennedy Center teaching artists were offered to local teachers during the 2010-2011 school year.

o   “Focusing on Arts Integration” led by Karen Erickson of Chicago, September 2010, held at and in cooperation with the Regional Office of Education Staff Development Center

o   “Using Visual Arts to Encourage Thinking and Writing” led by Sandra Phaup of Washington, D.C., February 2011, held at and in cooperation with the UIS Visual Arts Gallery

o   “Building Musical Instruments from Recycled Materials” led by John Bertles of New York City, May 2011, held at and in cooperation with the Regional Office of Education Staff Development Center

·         Forty-eight unique teachers, both from Springfield Public Schools as well as from other public and private schools, participated in the 2010-2011 workshops. 

·         In addition to the teacher workshops, John Bertles led in-classroom teaching demonstrations at a Springfield elementary school, affording classroom and arts specialist teachers at that school the opportunity to observe his teaching methods in action.  We hope to engage future workshop leaders in additional classroom and community opportunities to help extend and deepen the learning for teachers.

Responses from Teachers:
·         In June 2011, the partnership team convened a meeting of teachers interested in serving on an advisory committee to advise this program.  Five teachers, both from inside and outside district 186 attended the meeting and provided valuable feedback on their experiences with the workshops this year and insight that will assist with planning future years’ workshops.  We plan to have this committee convene once or twice annually to provide feedback and engage in planning.

·         A teacher who attended the February workshop provided the following testimonial to the partnership team:  My class did a painting project in the style of Rie Munoz, an Alaskan artist, because of the connection to their study of the Iditarod in Alaska in fourth grade.  (a stretch - but the same state.)  Anyway, we drew some of her paintings, using the process we learned in the last workshop, and then wrote our cinquains (poems).  I am typing them up and gluing them on their pictures, and that, along with a letter, is what we sent off to the artist.  Then the kids wanted to write another artist we have studied, and so we did it again.  It has been a great exercise, and the poems really reflect the feeling of the paintings, which is very rewarding.”

·         Selected feedback from workshop participant evaluations is as follows:
o   “The compare and contrast of the same lesson was excellent and very helpful in what I can take back to my principal and teachers.”
o   “Excellent presentation and presenter wonderful.  Loved learning more drama terms.”
o   “Superb.  Workshop leader is so creative – she makes it happen.”
o   “Very engaging!”
o   ”Amazing opportunities to learn from expert in field.  Real-life examples helped put process into perspective.”
o   “This was the best workshop I’ve been to in the district.”
o   “Great motivator!”

We look forward to announcing the 2011-2012 season of events for teachers later this summer.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What would *you* choose? Plus staff picks…

Have you noticed several upcoming events on our Performing Arts Season that are of interest to you, but thought, “Well, I’m not really a *subscriber* type.  I’ll just wait for the individual ticket on-sale.” 

Hold on there!  Not so fast!  Have you considered our Create Your Own Series option? 

Four shows.  That’s all you need to commit to.  They can be from among events on the UIS Broadway, Visiting Artists, Kitchen Sink and Family Series.  The “Create Your Own Series” package gives you the freedom to select all the shows that you want to see and still receive many subscriber-type benefits.

·         Create your own personal series, selecting the shows you want to see the most.
·         Receive up to a 20% discount on the shows you select.
·         Enjoy access to UIS Broadway Series tickets before they go on sale to the general public.

So what would *you* choose as your four events?  Here are the picks of several Sangamon Auditorium staff members:

Michelle Yenerall, Ticket Sales Assistant:
5th House – Listen to the River
Beauty and the Beast
Young Frankenstein
*Michelle says, “And if I could add a fifth, I’d add ScrapArtsMusic”

Elise Robertson, Event Coordinator:
Jake Shimabukuro
Eric Bibb & Grant Dermody
Tribute to the Blues Brothers
Young Frankenstein

Mike Bermingham, Administrative Office Student Worker:
My Fair Lady
South Pacific
Pink Floyd Experience

Mindy McCaffrey, Volunteer Coordinator:
Fifth House
Jake Shimabukuro
Erin Bode
JLCO w/Wynton
*Mindy says: “There are actually many more I would choose...but if I had to rank them, this would be it!”

Brandy Stabler, Development Assistant:
Beauty and the Beast
In the Heights
Treasured Stories by Eric Carle
*Brandy says, “My choices almost always center around something I can take my children to so that I can make sure they get to experience live performances. However, In the Heights is totally selfish – I’ve never seen that musical, and would love to!”

Amy Zepp, Audience Development Assistant:
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
My Fair Lady
Jake Shimabukuro
In the Heights

Alice Bettis, Administrative Aide:
Original Tribute to Blues Brothers
Pink Floyd Experience
Scrap Arts Music

Bryan Leonard, Associate Director of Marketing:
Erin Bode
Ruth Moody

So again, what would *YOU* choose?