Around Town: He teaches Oakland Cemetery’s ghosts to come alive

Right here’s a query for the Halloween season: How do you correctly act like a ghost?

Apparently, you simply preserve it actual.

Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He might be reached at [email protected]

Matt Huff figured that out just a few years in the past. He teaches theater at Oglethorpe College in Brookhaven, the place he’s an affiliate professor, so for more often than not, he works with college students to stage and research performs.

However in latest Octobers, he’s stuffed one other function: he directs ghosts. Really, actors portraying ghosts. He works with the volunteers who painting the ghosts on the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Excursions at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery. His function is to assist convey these ghosts, nicely, to life.

Like many freelance jobs, this one began with an e-mail. Huff mentioned that seven or eight years in the past, when the cemetery’s annual Halloween tour was rising quickly in reputation, he was amongst a gaggle of native theater individuals who have been invited to direct the actors who seem through the tour with a purpose to sharpen up the present. “I used to be the one one who mentioned ‘sure,’” Huff mentioned throughout an interview by way of Zoom. “I’m actually glad I did.”

Throughout previous excursions, guides have led small teams by the cemetery, the place they encounter actors portraying folks buried close by. This yr’s tour is anticipated to be completely different due to the pandemic. The guides and ghosts will stay, however the tour is transferring on-line, and the in-person tour could also be cancelled, though that call had not been introduced by mid-September. The net tour might be opened to the general public on Oct. 29. It’s going to value $15. For particulars see or

“I’m truly actually enthusiastic about it,” Huff mentioned. “This can be a cool factor.”

The annual tour is the largest single fundraiser for the Historic Oakland Basis, the nonprofit that takes care of the cemetery. However Mary Margaret Fernandez, particular occasions & volunteer supervisor for the inspiration, argues the October occasion affords one thing greater than a enjoyable strategy to assist the cemetery financially. The tour offers, she mentioned, an uncommon method of taking a look at Atlanta historical past.

The ghosts embrace each well-known and comparatively nameless Atlantans, and the actors and their speeches “present what lies between these two dates you discover on their headstones,” she mentioned. One tour, as an example, featured a infamous 19th century madam. One other launched a bi-racial couple who have been married at a time their relationship was itself unlawful, Huff mentioned.

“It’s superb to see how the telling of those tales has breathed new life into the historical past of town.” Fernandez mentioned. “We’re stopping sure areas of Atlanta’s historical past from being forgotten.”

Matt Huff. (Particular)

Which ghosts will seem on the tour, Fernandez mentioned throughout a cellphone interview, is a fastidiously guarded secret. “It’s completely different yearly,” Huff mentioned. “They alter it up. There are 1,000,000 tales at that cemetery, in order that they’re by no means going to expire. I’m all the time amazed on the tales they discover.”

Huff’s job, Fernandez mentioned, is to teach the actors to make their performances “really feel real. … It makes the performances really feel like they’re being instructed to you by somebody you realize relatively than somebody very polished. He makes it very private.”

So, simply what do you inform an aspiring ghost about easy methods to handle a tour group? Discuss such as you imply what you say. “You’re not talking in regards to the cemetery within the third individual,” Huff mentioned. “It’s important to communicate the traces as if you happen to’ve lived it.”

Huff mentioned one of many first issues he instructed was that the inspiration rent an expert playwright to script the tour in order that the tales have been introduced constantly. Now the inspiration makes use of two writers, who work with materials from a wide range of sources, together with the households of the departed, to assemble the tales the ghosts inform, Fernandez mentioned.

“I’ve all the time seemed for a inventive problem,” Huff mentioned. “Once I go there [to the cemetery] and I observe a gaggle for a efficiency, once I see the entire thing in context, it truly is a magical expertise. … It’s like historical past is coming to life proper earlier than you.”

However, regardless of the actual fact these are ghosts and it’s the Halloween season, not essentially a scary expertise, he mentioned.

“It’s enlightening,” he mentioned, “not horrifying.”


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