TheatreWorks – Birkenhead, Auckland

DSC02203The team was called in to investigate ongoing reports of unusual activity and experiences by both staff and patrons within this deceptively sized North Shore community theatre.

Team in attendance: Mark, Barbara, Ian and Sam

Weather: Overcast / light rain

Initial temperature taken: Exterior: 11.6°C  Interior: 14.5°C

Theatreworks,  The home of the Mairangi players, a community based theatre group that have been performing since 1952.

DSC02195Many performers have come and gone since then of course, however current members have been starting to get the feeling that some of the past members may be lingering on well into the afterlife.

There have been reports of objects being moved from one spot and turning up in another when no one else is around, shadows seen out of the corner of their eye and a general feeling of never being alone and often feeling watched when alone in the in the building.

It is believed by many of the performers at Theatreworks, that the presence is that of Cicely Margaret Escott – more commonly known by the name “Peg” whom served on the Mairangi players committee and directed many plays from 1977 until her apparent suicide in 1977.DSC02230

*Notably “Peg” is also linked to the Pumphouse theatre in Takapuna where the Mairangi players also perform. Her presence is said to have been seen and felt there also.

We asked the client to gather whatever information they could of the activity that is said to occur at the theatre.

“I have spent many hours there on my own, often overnight and have frequently felt that I haven’t been on my own, though never unsafe. Often I would put something down, it wouldn’t be where I put it, and then I’d kind of say something like ‘Very funny, but I really need to get this done so I can go home and get some sleep’ then I’d find the paint brush, screwdriver or whatever where I had expected it to be.

Also much unexplained bumping downstairs, which stopped as soon as anyone went down to investigate.

One time a pupil wandered across the stage and into the wings for no reason during a rehearsal and when I asked why, she said she thought she saw something there. Everyone else was accounted for on stage. When I told her mother, she said the girl was quite often one to experience (without foreknowledge) those types of things in reputedly ‘haunted’ places.

I was somewhere between 15 and 17 (definitely still at school) so the year was between 2002 and 2005. I was downstairs, by myself (but not alone at the theatre).

I was standing by the door to the set bay, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a swish of fabric on the stairs – it was significant enough that I went looking for the source, and there was nobody there. The fabric was pretty thick and heavy, though the movement was light enough.

I then went back upstairs and told others what I saw, and the night went on as usual. The other thing I remember is that I definitely didn’t feel afraid at any point. If there was a mood downstairs, it was calm and friendly.

DSC02321The only experience I’ve had of this kind was when Robyn (Donnelly) and I returned a pair of spectacle frames (with no lenses) that we had borrowed for a party. Robyn put them in the dressing room and they disappeared. A couple of weeks later (perhaps during a rehearsal) I noticed the spectacle frames sitting on a bench in the dressing room, approximately where Robyn said she had left them. Thinking nothing of it, I left the dressing room and returned a few minutes later to see that they were gone again. They have never been found since, and would be very unlikely to have been removed by anybody else as they have no lenses (so aren’t much use for anything other than costume).

There have been a couple of other times where I have left something lying around and found it in a place where I don’t remember putting it – including one time when I was alone at the theatre, so nobody else could’ve moved it. However, this might simply be my own forgetfulness rather than anything supernatural!

I feel I am sensitive to the paranormal, and have lived in a few places that have had a presence. I have never seen anything ghost-like, or seen things flying around the place, but the experiences I have had have been a feeling of dread, and being watched.

I sensed a presence before I even walked in the door of TheatreWorks (in June of 2013), and asked if anyone else had felt the same. It’s not a feeling of dread that I feel there, but a feeling of constantly being watched. I am constantly checking my peripheral, and don’t like facing the back of the theatre, and if the door to the back corridor is open, I have to close it.

My gaze is often directed to the rafters (in particular, the area above the front of stage).

DSC02263The first time I went to the bathroom the light was out, and I felt like a scared little boy looking for the light switch … when a group of us went down stairs I was scared as.. I don’t feel quite the same reactions this time (we started rehearsing a play July of 2014) but still very much aware of a softened presence, I think we’ve come to accept each other …

You have 3 ghosts that I have seen. One is relatively New and male. Two are female. One of the females comes and goes, the other is there.  The male seems to be intermittent. There is one other that came when the building was moved.

I know who they are that at the theatre. At least the three who are quite visible. The one who came with the building is feeling displaced, fractured. But is glad the building is being used for happiness and laughter. The three are Peg, Lois and Llyn. Peg comes and goes.”

Possible Spirit Residents

Cicely Margaret Escott, known as Peg (Margaret) Escott (1908-1977)

  • Served on committee 1969.
  • Directed several plays for Mairangi Players from 1969-1977.
  • In 1968 TheatreWorks (currently operating as Mairangi Players Inc as of 2014) started looking for a permanent home. Peg was a fore-runner in this project, and investigated The (at that stage not a theatre) Pumphouse as a venue. She was instrumental in it being saved and being turned into a theatre, serving on the Pumphouse committee until at least 1973, but it did not become our home.
  • Wrote and directed “Saved” (a melodrama set in colonial Auckland), performed at the opening of The Pumphouse theatre in 1977)
  • Committed suicide at Takapuna Beach, body was found in the Waitemata Harbour on 15 August 1977

DSC02232

Lois Alberta Paynter (1928-2011)

  • Founded club, served on committee 1952-1974
  • Directed and acted in many plays at many venues
  • Died 2011
  • Involved right to her passing.

Llewellyn “Llyn” Eric James Soden (1932-2014)

  • Husband of Jenny Soden who served on committee 1972-2008

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Robyn and Stuart who gave us an initial tour of the building and gave us an insight into the areas where the activity had allegedly occurred.

DSC02300Sam – My first impression of the building was that it was quite an intimate little theatre. To be honest in my head I had pictured something much bigger.

Ian – The Theatre works building has an apparent connection to the Pumphouse Theatre, in that a water pipe that runs alongside the Pumphouse, runs underground the end up at theatre works. It is said that you can use the pipe to travel between both.

The other theorised connection is that the haunting at the Pumphouse is but the same woman, The woman in black.

There is a picture of the woman who was involved in the setup and running of both theatres in both building.

It is a small cute building, situated amongst some social clubs and sports clubs, has a large carpark and feels very local and well-loved by the local community. It is kept clean and tidy and by choice of the owners has stayed small to serve to local people.

DSC02273As you enter the main door the stage is on the left. Going backstage and downstairs you enter the storerooms, wardrobe and props room. There is a large collection of costumes and props which have been collected and used over the years and the rooms smell like an old secondhand clothes shop. These areas provide the character of the place.

Back on the main floor, there is a small room and lighting/sound desks with a storage area.

The wardrobe area was very impressive and I liked standing in here with all the lights and listening to the surroundings. I would guess during busy times a lots of people are running around this area looking for their costume or making one up.

The whole bottom part of the building is filled with people’s old items and many of them being very old, old wedding dresses, clothes that were special to people and were handed over for use when they died, by the family.

I imagine there are lots of attachments to the items down here

It felt like a nice friendly place to be. The hosts were very welcoming and stayed with us during the night. I imagine a lot of people spent lots of community and family time here. It is only a small place so only holds a small audience.

Temperatures noted in the Building by Barbara.

Surface/Ambient

  • Entrance 15.1/17.6
  • Ladies Toilets 13.7
  • Mens Toilets 14.3
  • Sound Box 14.6/17.5
  • Theatre 14.3/16.4
  • Stage 14.3/16.7
  • Stage Left 13.5
  • Stage Right 13.4
  • Behind Stage 13.7
  • Dressing Room 13.8/14.4
  • Costume Room 13.5/14.9
  • Stairwell 13.1
  • Dark Storeroom 12.7/14.4
  • Props Storeroom 13.2/14.8
  • “Throne” Room 13.7/14.9

DSC02246

Barbara – The theatre was among a group of buildings and I was not expecting that.

It was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside.  I was amazed that there were so many rooms and areas to investigate. The building was an older wooden building.

The public areas included a small entrance/reception area with a tiny bar with men’s and ladies toilets either side.  There was a main stepped theatre which was very small in comparison to other theatres.  There was a soundbox at the back beside the entrance. At the other end of the building was the stage, with a walkway behind it and “wings” on either side.  Behind the stage was a dressing room  and a costume room.  Beside the wing of the left stage was a set of stairs that went down to three store rooms.
The downstairs rooms definitely had a feeling about them.  It felt as if there was someone else down there even when I was alone.  I also felt that the dressing room was quite interesting as that was the room where items had disappeared from and it felt colder than the other areas of the theatre although the actual temperatures did not indicate this.  The dressing room smelt quite musty so that may have added to the feeling of something not being right in there.  The stage was also a place we focused as that was another area where people had reported things being moved and a feeling that they were not alone.

DSC02277Sam – Despite the smaller size of the theatre and stage, I found the actual size of the building quite deceiving with a costume and make-up room backstage that perhaps had a heavy-musty “op-shop” feeling to it, and a large basement where most of the props seemed to be kept. I can see where the basement could harvest a bit of a creepy feel to it. It was a basement after all but it was also wall to wall with little trinkets and nick-knacks otherwise gathering dust when not used in the plays and a draft could be felt coming through the cracks in the old barn-like wooden double doors suggesting that opened up to the street behind the building.

On asking Robyn and Stuart about the presence that they had felt in the building they both seemed to agree that “Peg” would be the likeliest spirit to linger on and deliberately play a few tricks and move objects all in the name of a bit of mischief. They couldn’t however pinpoint on how or why they believed it was Peg – they just had a feeling that it was, and they both seemed to be happy that she was watching over the theatre.

I was surprised to hear that they were unaware of her presence also being felt in the Pumphouse theatre. They were quick to announce that they claim Peg for themselves as the resident ghost.

Investigation

DSC02293Sam – EVP sessions were held in the theatre, the basement and in the backstage make-up/dressing room. Despite a few unusual shuffling noises and a “bump” sound coming from somewhere upstairs whilst recording in the basement, the audio recordings didn’t appear to contain any unusual sounds or noises. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of noise pollution travelling over from the RSA opposite the theatre which in my opinion would have made any possible EVP questionable.

The EM sensor was also used in all of the EVP sessions which only appeared to trigger every so often with Barbara’s movement.

Once again, like our Puhoi Centennial Hall investigation,  we came to the conclusion that static electricity was the likely culprit.

DSC02218Mid way through the session, Mark climbed up into the ceiling cavity to look for any possible signs of animals like rats, mice or possums that might cause noises.

We also wanted to check the EMF ( Electromagnetic Field) levels up there as we were told there was wiring and cabling in the ceiling for all the theatre lighting and sound system. Often, high EMF fields in areas can lead to those within close proximity to feel nauseous, feelings of unease, even causing hallucinations and an overwhelming sense of paranoia. .

Mark – I scrambled around on my belly for quite some time. A bit dusty and a few cobwebs, but everything up there was relatively tidy and in order. There was a pile of hay or dried grass in one area that I assumed was deposited there by birds making nests at some point.  No signs of birds living there, (no feathers or the usual left-overs) though there was bird poop around the hay pile.  No tell-tale signs of rat or possum habitation.

EMF levels were flat up there as well. Nothing unusual that might have explained the alleged claims of activity.

Barbara – While we were on the stage doing a communications session several people reported feeling cold breezes however these temperature fluctuations were not corroborated by the actual temperature readings.  The dressing room was another area where team members reported feeling colder but once again the temperature recorded did not indicate this.  I felt a sense of not being alone while downstairs by myself.  I also saw a dark “shadow streak” shoot up the front wall of the theatre at about a 45 degree angle.

Possible EVP and unusual recordings

Barbara – I recorded the whole investigation including EVP sessions on the stage, downstairs and in the dressing room.

Unfortunately there was something happening at a nearby hall and they had a loud PA system, which could be heard through our recordings.  There were also noises from the car park outside.

These are some of the more interesting recordings:

Summary

The Haunted Auckland team carried out a Class 2 investigation at the TheatreWorks building in Birkenhead.  Many hours worth of audio and video recordings and hundreds of photos.

We audio and video recorded communication sessions on stage, downstairs and in the dressing room.  Temperature and energy field data was noted both at the beginning of the investigation and throughout the night as required.  Interior and exterior data was collected. Although we were at the site for about 4 hours there was no unusual or significant activity observed or captured upon review.

DSC02264Barbara – I saw a black streak move quickly up the wall at the back of the theatre.
Apart from that it was an extremely uneventful investigation. I spent quite a lot of time talking to Robyn and Stuart.  They had lots of tales of working late and having things moved or a feeling of someone being with them. I thought the investigation went well.  It’s just a shame that we didn’t
experience any activity on the night. I didn’t see or hear anything during the investigation which would make me think that this building was haunted.  This doesn’t mean that it is not haunted but at the time of our investigation we were unable to observe any activity.

DSC02303Ian – It was a small place, it did not take a long time to cover everywhere. It was easy to debunk most of the noises we heard.  I think most of the team considered it to be a non eventful night but was certainly worth visiting. I felt it is another much-loved small community theatre. I feel there was a connection between here and the Pumphouse but don’t think here is very active at the moment. The building manager was very welcoming and very helpful if we needed anything. It was a nice place to be and would be a nice place to rent out for future events. It is hidden away in Birkenhead and is easy to get to if we needed to. It was interesting to see the building associated with the Pumphouse. The same picture of the woman from Pumphouse was in this place, I think if there are more clear and relevant claims it would be nice to go back but for now I don’t feel like we will experience much here .

 

DSC02325Mark – I really liked this location. It’s hidden away behind buildings and a sports playing field and I’m sure there would be many still not knowing of its existence. It has a rich and interesting history and the place has been lovingly looked after for many years. Pride, loyalty and a sense of community was evident throughout. The building has a  comfortable, relaxed and welcoming feel to it.  Certainly not oppressive or negative in any way. I’m glad we were introduced to this location.

I live on the north shore, so to discover a gem like this fascinating theatre so close to home is a real treat.

I personally didn’t feel anything I would consider unusual. Data-wise we came up blank with no anomalies or out-of-place temperatures, energy fields or moisture / humidity etc. Everything was as it should be.

However, we cannot discount the stories that have come forward through the years from staff and patrons.

I would certainly like to spend more time in the Theatreworks theatre.

Lets just say, I don’t think the spooks have heard the last from us!

DSC02239Sam – While we didn’t appear to come away with any conclusive evidence of a ghostly presence at the Theatreworks theatre I’m not about to go ahead and say that it isn’t (or at least has never been) haunted.

I personally didn’t get any feeling of being watched nor did I ever feel as though there was an additional presence to the room whilst being there. I do however believe that the stories being told by Robyn and Stuart were (in their opinion) legit and truthful but were obviously things that had happened at random over a period of years compared to our team only being there for a few hours.

All in all a quiet investigation but still an interesting one.

A huge thank you to Robyn and Stuart for giving us rare, behind the scenes access to the theatre and being so helpful and informative.

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