An Eerie Theatre Space Adds Mystery to The Ghost Building

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Ovation Fellows are current students or recent alumni from Los Angeles area universities.  Fellows are paired with a Mentor, currently serving as an Ovation Award voter, and see productions and meet artists around Greater Los Angeles throughout the year.  Their articles, posted on LAStageBlog, are intended to be their personal responses to their experiences, and not as critical reviews or representing the views of LA Stage Alliance.

Jesse Bethune is an Ovation Fellow from California State University Northridge.

When I heard I was going to see Damon Chua’s world premiere play The Ghost Building at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, I didn’t know what to expect. Although a Los Angeles native, I had never heard of the Alexandria Hotel so I was curious how a hotel would be used as a theatre space. Would the theatre be on a floor of the hotel and look like a traditional theatre space; or would it be housed in one of the hotel’s conference rooms and be treated as a black box space? Curiosity was getting the best of me and I couldn’t wait to see exactly how the Company of Angels uses the Alexandria Hotel as a venue. Boy was I in for a major surprise.

The Alexandria Hotel was built in the early 1900s and was the place to be seen for Hollywood stars of the Silent Era. Since Hollywood was just becoming established, there was no place for newly created film stars to live so they stayed at the Alexandria. Any star you can think of from the beginnings of Hollywood magic, you can be assured lived for some time within this grand hotel. Of course times have changed and now the hotel is home to senior citizens, wheelchair bound individuals and, of course, the stage for the Company of Angels.

Later that evening, while meeting with playwright Damon Chua, I would learn The Ghost Building was inspired by the eeriness one feels when first entering the Alexandria. When I heard this directly from the playwright, I could completely agree with him since I had the same experience when I entered. To begin with, when you walk into the main lobby you feel as though you have literally walked back in time. The ambiance of the main lobby is very late 1920s to early 1930s. There are pictures everywhere of famous Hollywood stars who have called the Alexandria home. Even though the lobby is clean, you get this feeling all of the hanging pictures were placed there in the 1920s and that they have never been taken down, forcing these images to almost haunt the space. To make matters even more eerie, as you enter, over a very loud sound system is heard the orchestral music of the period. Upon hearing this music, I was instantly transported onto the set of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining! Even though I didn’t feel like I was in any danger, I sure was spooked.

When my mentor, Kevin Cochran, joined me, he gave me a tour of other parts of the hotel. I was amazed to see such a beautiful Los Angeles landmark. The vacant ballrooms were astonishing yet they held the same eeriness of the 1920s. From carved cherub-lined wall moldings to the available furniture, I was walking through a time warp. Making this journey was at times a little eerie but when all is said and done, the Alexandria Hotel is a marvelous building that should be seen by everyone.

Once we made it to the theatre space I discovered Company of Angles has created a wonderful space to present theatre. The stage is located on the third floor of the hotel and the lobby overlooks one of the grand ballrooms of days gone by. When I met with Damon Chua after the show I learned his play was also influenced by the many ghost stories that fill the Alexandria’s history. Walking around the hotel prior to seeing The Ghost Building added to the play’s mystery and made me believe it was possible for the building to be haunted.

If you ever get a chance to see a production at Company of Angels, be sure to take in the beauty of the theatre’s amazing venue. Or, if you are ever downtown, take a peek as you will feel the Alexandria Hotel’s powerful and eerie presence even without seeing a play about ghosts.

Jesse Bethune

Jesse Bethune