Leadership / 10.26.22
Paranormal Expert Matsuo on Why Some Theaters and Event Venues Host Ghosts
Each year at this time, we publish some kind of Halloween-themed article for our INTIX members’ reading pleasure. In 2020, this journalist interviewed paranormal investigator and researcher Alex Matsuo to discuss the various spooky and spiritual things that have gone on at some of the country’s theaters and live event venues. In that article, Matsuo spoke from a place of specific experience having previously authored “The Haunting of the Tenth Avenue Theater,” which focused on the ghostly happenings at one of San Diego’s more popular stage venues.
It’s two years later, and we thought we’d catch up with Matsuo to see if the performing arts world had scared up any new stories she’d like to share. Sure enough, Matsuo had most recently heard about a supposedly haunted venue called Benton Hall in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, home of the Wilkes Playmakers.
She had also heard about the Chester Little Theatre from a friend in South Carolina. Matsuo says, “The building has since closed permanently, but I've heard rumblings that there are efforts to reopen it. There, a woman is believed to haunt the theater and she's unnerving to men who enter the theater’s doors. The building opened in 1913 as the Dreamland Theatre and has had a few name changes, including the City Theatre and Powell Theatre, before becoming known as the Chester Little Theatre.”
As Matsuo has continued to research different haunted theaters, she has noticed a certain "ghost formula" at many of them: “Usually there's a starlet who was robbed from her big break due to a jealous understudy [or] a child who died from outside the theater.”
Matsuo has continued to act in regional stage productions in the time since we last chatted, but not as frequently having recently gotten married. She also moved from Raleigh, North Carolina, to the Washington, D.C., metro area for work purposes.
Still, the question was posed to her … “In the instances where you have been part of the cast or crew of a play or musical, have you personally witnessed a sighting or haunting?” Matsuo was quick to reply: “I've had quite a few as a cast member. The earliest one I remember was when I was in ‘Peter Pan the Musical’ at Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego when I was about 14 years old. It's known as the first modern playhouse west of the Mississippi, and it opened in 1912. After places [a theatre term for the order that’s given for actors and crew to get into position for the beginning of an act or scene] were called at the start of the show, I stepped outside my dressing room. The dressing rooms at Spreckels were rather unique, as they were directly backstage on the second floor behind the [cyclorama]. I saw a young woman dressed in pink tights, a black leotard, pointed shoes, and her hair was in a bun. She had her leg resting on the railing of the bannister like she was stretching.”
Matsuo says, “What stood out to me initially was, ‘Why isn't she in costume? We're at places!’ But then I also realized that I didn't recognize her. We were the only company in the theater, so why would this outsider be here? I looked around and looked at her again as she quickly dissipated. I learned that there was a ghost story at Spreckels about a ballerina who died after her understudy tripped her as she was going down the stairs from the dressing rooms to the stage!”
Of course, in her line of work, Matsuo has people rolling up on her quite often to share their stories of the supernatural. Does she have a favorite story told to her by an actor/actress/director friend or colleague? Once again, her thoughts took her back to San Diego. “I performed at a theater known as the Lyceum Theatre, which was an underground theater in the [former] Horton Plaza mall. It used to be a vaudeville theater, and it's just a few blocks away from the Spreckels and the Tenth Avenue Theater. I heard a story from a few crew members about a performance where there was a woman on stage singing and performing by herself. Behind her was a shadow figure that was walking around and mimicking her movements! This was witnessed by several people.”
With books on store shelves and social media followers increasing, Matsuo’s investigative talents and abilities have been in high demand these days. So, let’s say you are an INTIX member who would like to bring in or hire a paranormal expert. Something has been going bump in the night just off-stage. One part of the venue always seems just a bit colder than the rest of the space. Performers and patrons alike swear they’ve seen someone or something that vanished as quickly as it appeared.
The artistic director or ticket office manager is convinced enough to give Alex Matsuo a call. What are the services that Alex offers? Which questions should you expect to be asked? And what first steps will Alex take when hired?
She says, “I would ask about when the occurrences started and if there were any witnesses. I'd also gather as much information as possible that may help me dive into historical research. I would offer to do an ongoing investigation since investigators rarely get something on the first visit. I'd probably ask to hang out backstage or in the rafters during performances, too, especially if the activity was occurring during performances. I've started to favor the process of recreating the events where someone had the experience. For example, if the client was doing laundry in the costume shop at 3 a.m., then I would ask if we could do laundry at 3 a.m. in the costume shop. Recreating the situations where the activity occurred seems to be more effective since it gives me better context as to what happened before, during and after the incident.”
Matsuo says it’s hard to tell if ghost sightings are getting more or less frequent in the world today. She has observed that people seem to be sharing their stories more frequently, reasoning, “They aren't so worried about experiencing judgment. Also, the world overall has become more receptive to hearing about ghost stories.”
And the world has been receptive to Matsuo’s latest nonfiction read, “The Hamptonville Hauntings: Ghosts of the Trivette Clinic.” Matsuo spent four years getting the book from concept to readers’ nightstands. “Right now, it's available on Amazon, and I have signed copies available on my Etsy shop. [INTIX member-readers] can expect to dive deep into a North Carolina haunting with lots of layers and lots of history. Think of the movie, ‘Thirteen Ghosts,’ except the 70-plus ghosts at the Trivette Clinic are way friendlier!”
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