As one of lucky October-born people, the celebration of Halloween has always been a very important occasion for me as it is just a handful of days after my birthday. Growing up enjoying playing dress-up at this time of year always brought out my imagination into the realm of spirits, goblins, and how I just assumed they lived together with us in this world. And of course, my love of theatre which began for me at the age of six when I donned my first costume and took to the stage.
So at this time of year, I have always wanted to attend the annual GHOSTWALK “in the streets” production held in Santa Paula each October which brings to life encounters with local sprits who share the history of unique locations in the lovely quaint town inland from the coastal city of Ventura, CA. Originally settled by the Chumash Native Americans, this self-titled “Citrus Capital of the World” is situated amid the orchards of the fertile Santa Clara River Valley, and is home to the privately-owned Santa Paul Airport, established in 1927 by local rancher Ralph Dickenson.
The Roaring Twenties plays an important role in this year’s 26th annual GHOSTWALK, presented by The Santa Paula Theater Center as a streaming event on Oct 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 30, 31. In keeping with this tradition and current Covid-19 limitations, this year the ghosts are coming to you virtually in your own home, with each scene featuring individual ghosts filmed at unique locations around Santa Paula, streamed on the SPTC YouTube channel for public viewing at https://www.youtube.com/user/santapaulatheaterctr as well as on Facebook Live. Those who tune in will encounter several lost souls who will thrill them with the story of their untimely demise.
First you are welcomed to the evening’s adventures by The Ghostly Host, portrayed by Douglas Friedlander as a mixture of Santa Claus sitting in his doll-making workshop and Scrooge, who will delight you with his menacing glare and almost-toothless grin as he introduces each of the scenes, which incorporate colorful, historic locations and events about the early Santa Paula residents whose stories are being shared. The host also offers bits and pieces of his own personal story in between each scene, and offers groan-worthy one-liners about each character depicted after their scene ends. I especially liked his comment to the audience at the end of show to “please wear a mask” as he is not really ready to include you in next year’s show.
No doubt the talented Friedlander and all the other actors in GHOSTWALK 2020 relish portraying the ghostly visions of a long-ago lost souls telling their tales of woe, all of whom just want to be remembered for their contributions to local history, with each adding tons of entertaining and spooky flair to their storytelling. Each virtual scene features one actor at various locations either outdoors, at a local venue, or within hangers at the Santa Paula Airport. But rather than having to walk from scene to scene, this year you can sit comfortably in your own home, hopefully with the lights set low and Halloween decorations surrounding you, to enjoy meeting the following ghosts, which I will describe in the order presented.
“Beautiful Bertha” by Bill Nash, a tale of the town’s beloved first fully-functional fire truck (named after a wanton woman of the same name who stole many hearts in the town), was shared by Louis Hengehold who originally performed the role in 2007. As he lovingly strokes the almost 100-year-old vehicle, housed within an airport hanger, Hengehold morphs from mild-mannered volunteer fireman into a lonely and heartbroken man whose tales of putting his life on the line for a woman whose flirting pulled him into her web of desire and deceit will tear at your heartstrings. Of course he deserved better, as is the case with most of the characters presented.
Next we are taken to an old western “ghost” town location to watch “Josie’s Tale” by Jeanne Hayes, performed to perfection by Donna Olson who originated the role in 2011. Welcoming the audience as potential buyers to her Wheeler Canyon home with a “For Sale” sign in front, Josie shares her lifelong despair at being left alone after her husband Jess took a job with an oil company in Taft, leaving her feeling even more isolated than those of us now quarantining during the current pandemic. In her story, we learn about the real great flood that ravaged the area, which perhaps led to her own demise.
“Pancho Barnes” by Linda Livingston was originally performed by Katherine Dippong in 1998, this year reprised in a Nickelodeon-style, black-and-white movie trailer, told by Peggy Steketee as a bombastic flight instructor in the early days of Santa Paul Airport. Regaling us with her stories about Amelia Earhart and other famous personalities she met during the early air races from Santa Paula to Santa Monica’s Clover Field, Pancho’s gruff and masculine demeanor, which led her to never pass up on s dare, is often softened by her real concern for the safety of her planes as well as the new pilots she is teaching to fly them.
“Saving Grace” by Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson, originally performed by Katie Pawlick in 2004, is shared by Ivy Calhoun as the first of the two characters the talented actress portrays in GHOSTWALK 2020. Here she is a sickly child who finds her only solace in a magical Australian Fig Tree planted in 1869 on her family’s property. As she shares stories of her happy memories spent on the giant “tree’s knees,” Grace shares her ultimate horror at having to move from the property when she was 14, which forced her to leave her beloved companion behind. So if you find yourself in Santa Paula on Halloween night, be sure to stop by to see her haunted soul passing out Fig Newtons on her “tree’s knees” – if you dare!
“Take My Life, Please” by Mitch Stone, originally performed by Kirk Martin in 2010, is reprised by Bill Mattson, who offers a tale told by the ghost of floundering stand-up comic Vic Romero, who is heckled by a drunk Uncle Milty in the front row who constantly interrupts him to call for “service.” With each of his lame jokes ending with a traditional sis-clang of a snare drum and cymbal, Vic shares that “Heaven is a tough house” since its master has “heard it all before.” Ultimately, he reminds us all that life is short and to just “live it up” with those we love while we can.
“The Red Shoes” by John Nichols, which was originated in 2007 by Erin Hollander, is reprised by Lily Calhoun as a lonely girl from the fields whose tale of desire and recompence centers around her obsession with the landowner’s son. After being invited to the annual ball in his mansion, she shares her tale of dancing herself to death by not heeding the warning to remove the pair of magical red shoes given to her to wear until midnight during her only night of dancing delights. It’s easy to understand why she refused to remove them, even if doing so ended her life.
“The Fair Devil of the Air” by Mitch Stone is reprised by its 2014 originator Tammy Mora as Lillian Boyer, a wing walker known for her (in)famous “Breakaway” act in which she hung by her teeth from a by-plane’s wing over a spellbound crowd. In her tale, we learn of her death-defying antics over the Santa Paul Fairgrounds, told in front of small aircraft within an airport’s hangar. Moody lighting enhances this spooky tale, as well as all others told during GHOSTWALK 2020.
“Speak No Evil” by Jim Kasmir and Jeff G. Rack (from Unbound Production’s “Wicked Lit” and Theatre 40’s resident set designer) is performed by its 2010 originator Taylor Kasch as a ventriloquist whose “evil” dummy persuades him to stab his “not-so-nice” wife Sylvia to death. This scene, set in an old church with beautiful stained-glass windows and lovely wood-carved walls, brings both his dummies, the kindly Dapper Dan and evil Chauncey, into reality while housed inside an old suitcase on a nearby table to which the ventriloquist rants and raves about his tale of woe.
Tickets for GHOSTWALK are ordinarily $18 for adults, $8 for students and children 7 & over. But this year’s event is being offered PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN as Santa Paul Theatre Center appreciates your patronage and any contribution you are able to make during these difficult and unsure times. Reservations can be made by calling the Haunt Line at 805-525-3073, with tickets also available online at www.santapaulatheatercenter.org. This year’s family-friendly GHOSTWALK 2020 runs approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
I encourage participants to set the mood for viewing the production by turning the lights down low, gathering your favorite snacks and liquid refreshments, putting on your favorite pair of night clothes, and curling up on the couch to prepare yourself for a spooky night of ghostly tales! For more show information, visit www.ghostwalk.com. All proceeds benefit the Santa Paula Theater Center.
Screenshots taken by Shari Barrett