Ghostlight: Amherst’s Newest Theater Haunt

Amherst’s newest student-run theater group, Ghostlight, is currently preparing for their first production, a “Triple Feature” later this month. Managing Arts and Living Editor Alex Brandfonbrener ’23 sits down with Matt Vitelli ’24 to discuss the founding and future of the group.

Ghostlight: Amherst’s Newest Theater Haunt
Eva Tsitohay ‘24 and PJ Smith ‘24 rehearse for “Blackout,” a play written by Bianca Sass ‘23 for the upcoming “Triple Feature” produced by Ghostlight, a new student theater group on campus. Photo courtesy of Bianca Sass ‘23.

You are probably familiar with Green Room, the foremost student-run theater group on campus. Starting this semester, though, it is no longer the only name in the game. Enter Ghostlight, a new student theater group that promises audacious, experimental productions — beginning later this month with their student-written “Ghostlight Triple Feature.”

I spoke with Matt Vitelli ’24, one of the students who founded the group. He described Ghostlight’s mission as aiming to create a space on campus for people who are passionate about theater.

But why does Amherst need another theater group? “No one would ever say that The Student needs to be the only writing group on campus,” Vitelli said. “Maybe you’re interested in journalism, maybe you’re interested in creative writing. Maybe you’re interested in poetry, maybe you’re interested in academic journals, right? There should be outlets for all of that. Theater is very similar.”

Vitelli spent three years being heavily involved with Green Room, acting in a number of shows and serving as the club’s artistic director last year. “I loved all the things I’ve done in that group,” he reflected. “And I had a great time doing theater there.”

But he noted that there were not enough opportunities on campus for everyone interested in theater. “I counted the number of acting roles and tech roles and directing roles [in Green Room last year]: highest number we’ve ever had in the history of Green Room,” he said. “And even with the biggest season we’ve ever put on, we still didn’t have enough roles for everyone who tried out and wanted to be involved.”

The Theater and Dance Department also produces several plays and a musical each year, but Vitelli said that because of limited funding and faculty, those opportunities are inaccessible to many students. “They really have a focus on thesis-writing students, which of course is their primary mission, but it leads to the fact that there are not a lot of roles or ease of access for people to get involved with theater at that level,” he said.

Vitelli wanted to make something perfectly clear: “I would not classify our group as pushing back against Green Room at all.” He does not see Ghostlight as a “rival group” for Green Room. Instead, he said the two clubs should be amicable collaborators: “I’m hoping that people who are involved with Green Room shows can be involved with our shows, and people involved in our shows can be in those shows.”

Ghostlight isn’t just a second Green Room, though. Vitelli said that the group aims to embrace “forms of theater that Amherst students normally wouldn’t interact with,” such as student-written theater. “On campus before now, the only student-written things you might have seen would be Green Room’s 10 Minute plays, which are super, super fun,” he noted. They just are smaller, more casual in terms of production. … [Ghostlight’s student-written pieces are] larger, full-length productions.”

Other atypical forms of theater that Ghostlight hopes to feature include small, intensive, blackbox-style plays, as well as plays in translation. For example, next semester Vitelli plans to direct Nikolai Erdman’s “The Warrant,” a play translated from Russian.

Ghostlight’s first production later this month, “Triple Feature,” is a set of three student-written plays, performed back-to-back. One of the writers is Bianca Sass ’23, who is also directing her piece herself. Titled “Blackout,” her production follows two high school students watching a school play. One of them is writing an article about it for the student newspaper. The other, a lighting engineer for the show, begrudgingly accepts when he asks to watch with her in the secluded projection booth. Romance ensues.

“A challenging thing about writing and directing a show is balancing how to effectively communicate my vision for the show and for the characters, while allowing the actors [to also] interpret the show in their own ways,” Sass explained. “And I think really cool choices [have] come out of that combination.”

Sass has directed Green Room productions in the past, as well as a radio play. This time, she said that she enjoys the creative control she has had over the process: “Me and my actors have really collaboratively pitched how we wanted this play to go, what we want it to look like, what kind of props we want. And then me and the other [two] directors have really collaborated on the format of the triple feature …”

That creative freedom has thrilled her: “It’s been the best thing ever. It’s just so cool. Even though I wrote the play, every time we have rehearsal, it feels like I’m creating something new.”

Later this semester, Ghostlight has plans for two more productions: first, a monologue festival, which Vitelli is particularly excited about. He described the event as provocative and accessible to all students who want to be involved: “Students can come and just say, ‘Hey, this is a monologue or a short scene from either a movie or TV show or a play that I really want to put on.’ … [So it’s] a fun way for people to get involved with theater if they’ve never tried it before or if they have, whatever level of experience [they have].” Ghostlight will then finish the semester with a play written by Miles Garcia ’25, a large production featuring 12 acting roles.

Vitelli hopes that Ghostlight will grow into an organization that is open to all, regardless of their experience with theater. “I’m hoping in the future to get a bunch of activities going on each semester where people can just kind of dip their toes into theater — do it for a day, do it for a week, or something like that, and, you know, have less stakes for when they get involved with it.”

I asked him what he would share with those who are interested in student theater at Amherst. “The more people involved in the theater community, the better,” he proclaimed. “Reach out to Ghostlight if you have a play you’ve written … or if there’s just a play you’re very passionate about, either directing it or acting in it!”

The Ghostlight Triple Feature opens on Friday, Sept. 30. Additional performances will be held on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.