Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden

The team was invited to visit this wonderful old theatre in west Auckland’s Glen Eden. We had heard stories of ‘Ernie‘, the resident ghost, who some say, has been residing there since World War 2. Ernie is often blamed for any theatre mishaps within the theatre and comfortably known by most that have worked there through the years.

He has been witnessed on many an occasion up in the lighting booth, whilst some have claimed to have been ‘pushed’ by an unseen force whilst heading down the stairs from the booth. Nothing is really known about the mysterious Ernie. Who he was, where he came from and how he died.

It is thought that he used to work there, but there doesn’t seem to be any records of him being employed there. Our host for the night, however, says she has worked there for numerous years, spending a lot of time in the theatre, alone at all hours of the day and night and has not seen, heard or felt anything at all in her time there. Perhaps whatever or whoever ‘Ernie’ is, has now vacated the premises?

Playhouse Theater Article
Western Leader, December 10, 2002 (Click Image to Enlarge)

It was a cold and wet Friday night as we turned up to the theatre. On entry we were given a brief history of the theatre and its adjoining other buildings used by the theatre actors and staff before commencing a class 2 investigation of 3 hours. Over the next few hours the team took hundreds of photographs, hours of static and hand-held video footage, multiple audio recordings and tested the environment gathering atmospheric and energy field level data.

Theatre History

6_Playhouse-Townhall (1)Originally on the site where the Playhouse Theatre now stands at 15 Glendale Road, Glen Eden in West Auckland there was a wooden building that served as a public hall and offices for the Glen Eden Town Board. This was destroyed by fire on 10th February, 1935.

At a Town Board meeting on 13th May 1935, the architect, Mr Arthur Marshall presented final plans and specifications for a replacement hall building. In June a tender of £3,300 was accepted from W. C. Curtis and building of the new hall proceeded. Despite being in the period of the Depression, construction was completed quickly and the new hall took on all the functions of the old. A supper room and projection box was also added making the hall a much more versatile building.

The new Glen Eden Town Hall was officially opened on Coronation Day, 12th May, 1937, a celebratory ball being held in the evening. Apart from housing Town Board Offices, the building was also used as a library, dance venue, for school and community events as well as Indoor Bowling tournaments. From its opening however, one of its main functions was as a cinema. When the town offices and library moved, it became known as the “Star Theatre”. The local fire station was located behind the picture theatre and many times a film would be interrupted by the sound of bells calling the local volunteer brigade. In the 1960’s it was not unusual for the small suburban cinemas to find it increasingly difficult to compete with alternative entertainment, the most obvious being television. Screening of movies gradually ceased and in 1972 the “Star Theatre” officially closed due to declining financial viability. As fate would have it however, the venue was about to become a “theatre of stars”.

Playhouse Theatre

A committee member of Auckland Children’s Light Opera Society worked as a doorman for the Star and after a casual mention that the cinema was no longer in use, this became the catalyst for the idea of using the building as a performing arts facility. Delegates from three local theatre groups – St. Thomas’s Light Opera Club, Western Players and Auckland Children’s Light Opera Society met on the 7th August 1972 and voted to make an application to the Glen Eden Borough Council to obtain the lease of the hall for their combined use. The groups would operate independently under one umbrella known as Playhouse Productions and the building would have a name change to Playhouse Theatre. Tenancy to Playhouse Productions was approved in 1972. Then the work began. Twenty-five years of assorted accumulation had to be cleared from the building and a great deal of effort was needed by dedicated volunteers to transform the old town hall into a “live” theatre. Playhouse Productions became an incorporated society in 1973.

Over the next ten years, theatre members raised funds and made major improvements to the venue that included extensions of the stage, installing a new proscenium arch, building an orchestra pit, creating additional stage entrances, new seating, carpeting, an upgraded foyer, supper room and snack bar. Lighting, sound and curtain rigs were also installed and improvements made to the dressing rooms. In 1992 Playhouse Productions Inc. celebrated a 20th Anniversary and reminisced on the staging of over 87 shows staged since 1972 that included musicals, comedies, children’s shows, plays and assorted entertainments. A further amalgamation of the three theatre groups came about in 1993 when their stage productions came under the jurisdiction of one body that it is now known as Playhouse Theatre Incorporated.

As the new millennium approached it was recognized that the grand old theatre needed a face lift and upgrading to comply with the latest building regulations necessary for a public venue. Community funding grants could not be used to finance the refurbishment of a council owned building and this necessitated the formation of a Theatre Trust. Playhouse Theatre Inc. relinquished their lease on the building that would have run until 2028 so that the theatre upgrade could proceed.

The original Waitakere Playhouse Theatre Trust was formed in 1997 and after fundraising efforts secured over $2 million, they embarked on the biggest rebuild of the theatre to date. Contributors to the project included Portage Charitable Trust, Waitakere City Council, ASB Charitable Trust, Lotteries Board, ARST Funding (Waitakere and North Shore) and Playhouse Theatre Inc.

Playhouse Theatre

Work on the new theatre began in February 2002 and demolition continued until only the historical shell of the Playhouse remained. Plans for the new theatre included remodelling of the Front of House area to include a new theatre office, improved supper room with a large serving bar, extra toilets, an inner foyer with staircases either side leading to a mezzanine theatre seating area (38 seats), a raked, air-conditioned auditorium with seating for 202, a lighting bridge over the auditorium, an enlarged 120 square metre stage area incorporating a 6 metre motorized revolve, an orchestra pit, full sound/lighting and curtain rigs, a large backstage green room area and spacious dressing rooms with adjacent showers and toilet facilities.

A completely revamped Playhouse Theatre re-opened in March 2003 with great celebration. A toe-tapping musical “Anything Goes” was the first production staged by Playhouse Theatre Incorporated in the new performing arts facility and the Gala Opening was attended by local dignitaries and many of the people who helped to bring this huge project to fruition.

Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden has continued to be a centre of entertainment for Waitakere City and beyond ever since and offers one of the finest theatre facilities around. The venue is now in continual use by our resident theatre company, Playhouse Theatre Incorporated (P.T.I.) as well as a large number of community, professional and corporate organizations that present a multitude of performing arts events each year.

Weather Conditions on the Night: Though overcast for the investigation it had been raining on and off throughout the day.
Luna Cycle: Day after last quarter.

The theatre is an art deco brick building. The front exterior of the building makes it seem deceivingly small. The front end of the building towards the road holds the front of house, ticket booth and small bar which was originally a library at one point. A small inconspicuous door leads to a staircase that spirals over this area and is the location of the lighting booth. In the inner foyer, there is a staircase to each side that lead up to the mezzanine level which has 38 seats. Each staircase has a small cupboard underneath used for storage. The main seating area holds 240 seats, and has a staircase on either side leading down to the stage.

The stage is spacious also having and area for an orchestra pit as well as a fully motorized turntable in the centre of the stage that has a visible circular outline. Each side of the stage house dark curtains hiding back stage from the audience. Behind this main area is a small staircase leading to the second part of the building where all the dressing rooms are held. The dressing rooms have accordion doors to create multiple large, or more smaller changing rooms; each equipped with a TV showing the stage allowing the actors to know when to go back stage for their cue’s.

Playhouse Theatre

Jessie: “It was a “typical” theatre with an entrance room and off that the office, intermission room and the theatre itself. If you turn back once you walk through the entrance there is a little door on the side which takes you up a teeny little old staircase and at the top is the lighting box. If you walk in to the theatre from the entrance and walk past all the seating, over and behind the stage is the green room. The green room consists of a main common area with a kitchen and lounge/dining area and past this area down the hall is the dressing rooms and bathrooms.”

Jacalyn: “I found the building was well maintained and fit for purpose. From street view it’s deceiving how large the building really is and it’s only once inside that you get a true sense of its size. The building has had some obvious upgrades to the front portion of the building making it easy to tell what is new, and what is more original.”

Barbara: “Lovely old art deco style building which has been really well renovated and is in very good condition. It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was as it goes a long way back behind the stage. The seating area of the theatre is relatively small. I could sense that there have been a lot of people there over the years. I felt a lot of residual energy there. It felt like a happy, busy background “buzz” of energy. I did find the refreshment room beside the foyer interesting. This area had once been the library and I felt a sense of people moving around the room (as a residual energy). The staff lounge/green room was where Jess and I had an interesting experience.”

Heather: “Bought back memories of when I was a kid and my Nana use to take me to see the musicals there. Before the building was upgraded the seating was on the flat floor and an aisle down the middle whereas today the aisles are down the sides and seating is upstairs as well.”

Jessie: “Well, Barbara and I were down in the green room just talking about random stuff. Mark then threw a towel down the stairs as a joke which gave us a fright but we figured it was Mark so we continued to talk. After a wee while we decided to walk over to were the towel was and throw it back up the stairs. Just as i did this Barbara heard a noise behind us and brought it to my attention and I heard it also. We began to try to pin point where we were hearing the noise from. It turned out it was coming from Barbara’s camera bag which was on the table behind us and had been sitting there the entire time we were down there which would have been maybe 20 mins without going off.”

Playhouse Theatre

“I must mention the camera bag was not making the noise but the stud finder which was in the bag. It was facing up as well so something would have had to been above the bag to cause it to go off. After this Barbara suggested we should go and look down a hallway which was down past were we were, I agreed, hesitantly. As we turned to walk down the hallway the was a… “clunk” from behind us and so we decided to go upstairs to the other team as we didn’t have any gear to record what was going on. When we got back we discovered that the noise we heard is made when the lights are switched on or off, but the lights where doing neither when the noise was made.”

Jacalyn: “For myself the predominant room that stood out is the lighting booth. The area is a concrete box and was obviously warmer than the rest of the building as the brick absorbed the heat but wouldn’t let it escape as easily. Being the highest point of the building with a view of everything I found it to be the perfect spot to watch over the stage and audience. During the walk through I felt my heart begin to pound and my chest tighten while in the small walk space over the top of the arch. This is something I’ve never experienced before, and sensation I’m unlikely to forget.”

“I felt a strong sense of anticipation – similar to what you feel when you know something is about to happen in a scary movie but you don’t know what or when. This disappeared when I left the lighting box but returned when the group returned for our EVP session, again in the same location of the walkway over the arch. This time it went away with time rather than with my leaving the area. Due to this being my first investigation there is a possibility this may have been caused by nerves, and it’s only after further investigations when I’ve more experiences to compare it to that I’ll know this was something more. The lighting booth also holds a lot of electronic equipment, though most was there for storage and not plugged in. Though a possibility I find it unlikely that what I felt was caused by this.”

“While on the mezzanine level I took a few shoots aimed towards the lighting box. In reviewing my photo’s I quickly noted that in one there seemed to be a face in the glass. Comparing it to photos of the same window from other angles it became quickly evident that this was nothing paranormal but a case of Pareidolia. Pareidolia (also known as Matrixing), is simply the mind trying to find patterns and the familiar in our surroundings. The most common form of this is seeing faces in trees, clouds or in this case glass. One of the most well-known examples of this is the face on Mars, which was proven to an illusion based on photos taken from other angles. It’s thought that this ability to try to find patterns is hard-wired into our brain and is how babies learn to start recognizing faces.”

Playhouse Theatre   Playhouse Theatre

“In this particular instance I believe that what people will recognize to be a face due to this phenomenon is actually a hand print on the glass, based on its size, shape and location. What are perceived visually to be the nose and lines of the face are actually caused by the lines on the palm of the hand. In the area around the face you can see dozens of other marks and smudges caused by finger and hand prints to back up this theory. During the investigation I used an EMF Detector for the first time, while using it i found no fluctuations but was still getting used to it as well.”

Trigger Tests

Barbara: “I wrote in the thick dust on one of the banisters at the back top seating area of the theatre and asked if anyone was able to write in the dust while we were away, however the dust remained untouched.”

The team held a group communication session up in the lighting booth were the elusive Ernie often allegedly frequented.

Barbara: “During the EVP session in the Sound Box, Jess complained of her teeth aching and commented that she felt extremely sad and thought she was on the verge of tears. This continued for several minutes until she swapped places with Jackie. We continued the session and Jess reported that she felt better and Jackie had no problems.”

Heather: “While we were in the lighting box trying to make contact, I was standing in the doorway of the room where the arch was and felt a cold breeze on my neck like someone had gently put their hand around it. It was interesting in the lighting box when Jessie felt a pain, and her eyes also watered. She swapped places with Jackie. Jessie’s pain eased (although she mentioned she still had it the next day) Both Jackie and Barb (who was sitting near Jessie when this happened) noticed a cold breeze.”

Jacalyn: “An EVP session was held by the group while in the lighting box, recorded on video by Heather, and voice recorder by Barbara. The questions were predominantly asked by Barbara. Barbara may have caught a possible EVP saying ‘Nice Try’. The voice capture is very clear, and there seems to be an accent as well. It has been confirmed by the group that the voice wasn’t any of theirs. I found the timing of this EVP quite interesting timing wise.”

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“This is as it was captured around the time that investigator Jess mentioned she was getting a tooth ache which wasn’t normal for her. I offered to swap places with her to see if I’d get the same feeling sitting where she was. After swapping I didn’t feel anything sitting there, but the sensation was enough to warrant Jess to question if she should visit the dentist in the next few days. It was during this time that the spirit box was used, but nothing seemed to have been caught on this.”

As we only had a small team for this session, we decided to stick together in a group, but as time passed we found we were running short so decided to split up into two small teams to cover more ground and get more documentation gathered in the time left. Midway through the investigation Barbara and Jessie spent some time Backstage in the ‘Green Room’ attempting some EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) audio recordings.

Jessie: “I didn’t get too much of an initial feeling upon entering the building other than a ‘Oh that’s what its like on the inside’ feeling as my mum grew up in the area and I had been driven past it many times in my life. The entrance intermission and office areas, the first seen upon entry, felt the most ‘sterile’ to me. Which considering they were the oldest part of the building was a bit odd. Going up the stairs into the lighting box made me feel a tad “off”. That may however have been because they were old and creaky and it was the narrowest, steepest, mustiest, little turning stair case i have been up in while but it just felt “off”. Made me feel quite excited. I didn’t get any change of feeling in the theatre itself but in the green room I went from apprehensive to excited to confused to actually scared at one point. As soon as we were shown the green room at the beginning I felt “drawn” to the room. I just kept wanting to go back there.”

“The only temperature drops I noticed were in the green room but there was a door to the outside that we could see light under so it was most probably just a draught coming from under the door.”

Playhouse TheatreBarbara: “While Jess and I were in the green room behind the stage an electronic device I am trialing  went off in my bag seconds after Jess and I had had a bit of excitement over a t-shirt falling down a set of nearby stairs. While we were investigating that occurrence (which did actually have a non-paranormal reason) the device started going off. Initially it was a very a quiet and broken beep and I did not recognise it as my machine which had been used earlier in the evening, turned off and replaced in my bag. As Jess and I started looking for whatever was making the noise the beeping got stronger and louder until we realised it was coming from my zipped bag which had been left on a bench.”

“Once we discovered where the noise was coming from we turned it off again and brushed it off as “one of those coincidences”, however as we were about to continue with our investigation by going down a nearby staircase we heard a loud bang from the back of the room. It turned out that it was the noise that the lights made just as they were turned on but Jess and I did not have the lights on as there was enough light from the corridors at either end of the room. The strange thing is that upon reviewing our audio of that occurrence Jess had just asked for the light to be turned on to go down the stairs! We were not by the light switch at the time we heard the noise and it was not until other members from our group joined us and turned the light on as they arrived that we discovered that the bang we heard was the sound that the lights make just before they turn on.”

The whole group then spent some time in that room and had no further occurrences until we were about to leave when we all heard a bang from the far corner of the room. Maybe whatever it was playing with us.

In Summary

Barbara: “I think the investigation went well. I found the Playhouse Theatre very interesting. It is a lovely art deco style building with a real air of history about it. As it has had different uses over the years I felt that the building resonated with the collective residual energies of the many people who have used it over the years. I had no sense of a “residual haunting” as such, it is more of a feeling of underlying activity. I think the building may have an intelligent haunting though. This is due to the possible activity I experienced in the green room.”

“The team worked well together and we did manage to use a good variety of media for photos, video and audio. We were also able to get EMF readings, use the ghost box and other electronic devices. However, we underestimated the size of the theatre and did not allow time to cover the whole area properly.”

Jessie: “There were a couple of little events during the night that had me wondering if there could be more, but the “events” would stop as soon as they started and we never managed to get much recorded. I think there may be something there as what Barbara and I experienced was rather odd. There are a few parts in the building that you can really feel the history in (the Lighting Box stairs) and is an amazing building even with all the renovations that have been completed on it. I don’t think we had an as productive night in the place as we could have had as any activity that occurred, happened just before our time was up. It was a good night and the place could definitely do with another investigation.”

Heather: “The only thing I felt intriguing was where the arch had been built around and hidden in the space behind the lighting box. It echoed history and something was there, but what I don’t know. The room had a history/mystery all of its own, maybe that’s why Ernie liked to hang around there? It was also interesting looking under the stage, the land of time forgot, in its original state.”

Playhouse Theatre“Also the corner of the stage on the left hand side when looking down from the lighting box, I was drawn to the corner for some reason. I haven’t found any recorded history of anyone dying in the playhouse/town hall. People were hurt when the original town hall burnt down. The fire station was behind the old town hall for many years. There could be residual energies left from the hardship that the fire fighters went through. I thought the investigation went well, especially when Jess and Barb freaked out in the green room.”

“I enjoyed being there, bought back some old happy memories of my childhood, it was nice to know that people still cared and appreciated the old building. It’s a treasure and an interesting part of our local history. Was glad to be a part of the investigation. The Playhouse is a building with its own personality with its resident playful entity known as Ernie. It is very much apart of the local history and has been preserved with loving care of the people past, present and future. It would be nice to go back and explore the place again.”

Jacalyn: “I feel the evening went quite well, and for me it was the perfect first location for an investigation. Aside from Barbara’s stud finder going off, the evening was rather quiet. This made it the perfect learning opportunity to see how an investigation went and prepare myself for future investigations. With the building being so large there was a lot to cover, but given the time we had I feel we covered as much as possible. This was also a location I love and feel a connection to due to being in community theatre as a teenager.”

“I feel that whatever may be there is rather mischievous and playful based on the timing of the EMF going off after Mark tried to give Barbara a fright, and the EVP from the lighting booth. It seems almost like someone else was trying to get in on the fun and scare Jess. Though nothing definitive was captured to say that this location was haunted, doesn’t mean it isn’t. Based on the possible EVP recorded and the incident with the EMF detector I’m more inclined to say that if the building is haunted it is residual; yet at the same time I feel if something is there they are also of a playful nature.”

“This was the perfect first location for me due to my involvement in community theatre as a teenager. Being a theatre it’s a high energy place, and with hundreds of thousands of people and actors having been through the building it seems reasonable to believe that some of that energy has rubbed off on the building over time.”

Mark: “Personally, I didn’t see hear or feel anything that would stand out to me as being paranormal. I did feel the odd ice chill breeze whipping passed from time to time, but this could easily have been drafts and air circulation due to the layout of the building. Certain areas would have a wind tunnel effect with any entering wind from our side. I noticed an open slat window and a couple of old wooden doors in the building that were allowing the cold air from outside to enter. One door had a good 1cm gap underneath it, I could put my finger under it easily and feel cold air.”

“Energy and atmospheric field readings all stayed level and constant throughout the session. No spikes at any stage. It’s definitely a place I would like to revisit at some stage though. Would loved to have met Ernie but on this occasion he wasn’t being very social.”

Its was a great and interesting investigation in a beautiful and well-loved and looked after piece of Glen Eden’s rich and fascinating history. It’s always exciting to go behind the scenes in these places. To be privileged enough to gain access into areas that the general public don’t get to see, is something I find an honour and thrill. This way you get to see the full picture. The full identity and personality of the building can be seen in all its wonder.

We were really hoping to find some sign of Ernie’s existence in the theatre, though unfortunately we didn’t see, hear or feel anything on this session. The manager of the Playhouse has worked there for numerous years and spent much time there alone. She says she’s never seen, heard or felt anything either. Yet, the stories still stand. People have had unusual experiences through time in the theatre, so we can’t just dismiss those. Perhaps Ernie has moved on and no longer resides there? Perhaps he’s just being as typically elusive as everything else in this enigmatic paranormal world? We will be staying in touch with the theatre and listening out for any further unusual experiences there.

A big thank you to the Playhouse Theatre for allowing the team special after hours access into the theatre to carry out our research.

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