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February 2004

Back in the late 1930s, a local church had outgrown its building, and started to build a whole new area adjoining the original building.

The old church went through different functions through the years, until in the 1970s, its current facility was decided.

Downstairs are Sunday school classrooms and a small gym-like area with a basketball hoop where kids play and rummage sales are held. Upstairs, in what previously was the sanctuary, a theatre has been formed. Where the alter previously sat is now the stage, the pews ripped out and replaced by chairs. The old Sunday school rooms hold sets and costumes in storage, and the balcony now overlooks not weddings and ceremonies, but the musicals and performances of the resident community acting troop. The result is a strange atmosphere. The ornate wooden railings still stand, as do the leaded stained glass windows dating from the 1800s.

The acting troop consists of all members of the local community. Many of the actors are high school students or local businessmen, the sets are designed in the off-time by a local architect, the costumes sewn together by some retired seamstresses, and the lighting is done by electricians in their spare time. Everything is done on a volunteer basis, and it's very welcome and open group.

It was this group that I joined in my freshman year of high school. I had a small role, and found myself spending many nights and weekends practicing my part and helping to prepare the theatre for opening day. I signed up to work on scenery, which added an extra evening that I would have to spend painting, hammering, and nailing together the sets.

It was during one of these work-nights that the director forgot his keys to the balcony. The majority of the lights had their only switches up there, so we were working on really low-light conditions. The director called for one of the technicians who had another set of keys. I didn't know most of the technicians, except that they were mostly older men.

As I stood up from painting one of my sets, I noticed a man standing on the balcony, his hand on the railing, looking down at us. I glanced over to the director, nodded to the man and said "tech's here" before going back to my painting. Of course, this wouldn't be remarkable if, in fact, there was no one there. I didn't believe them, and ran up the stairs to the balcony, there the door was securely locked.

This started a long relationship with this man. I'd catch glimpses of him reflected in the windows, seemingly interested in the goings-on. I'd sit in the stairwell to the balcony doing homework with the other students, but I'd be the only one to hear the heavy footfalls pass us. He'd slide by in the corner of my eye, always the same. Salt and pepper hair, brown sports jacket, hat, always looking sad, although I never saw his face clearly. I decided my "friend" needed a name, and instantly "Marvy" came to mind. Being an insanely silly name, I changed that to "Marvin".

It was about a month later that I learned the story. Turns out that a man had committed suicide by shooting himself in the belfry, and the doorway to the belfry used to be entered through the balcony of our theatre, but was bricked over years ago. He's been haunting the theatre for years. His name? Martin, but everyone called him Marty.

The next year, things were even more unusual. In addition to his lurking about in my periphery, he made himself known in more dramatic ways. During a dress rehearsal, I was in the background, pretending to be preoccupied. I looked to my right, and there stood Marty, staring straight forward into the audience. I stared at him for a moment, then suddenly, the director yelled for us to stop. The orchestra stopped playing, the actors paused, mid-line, and we all looked to see what was wrong. Angry, the director reminded us that only actors were allowed on- stage during scenes, then asked me who it was who had wandered onto the scene next to me. I stood there, mouth open staring at him. After a moment, I think the director realized who was really there, and started the rehearsal up again.

The last year I was a member there, before I went to college, I was helping set up the balcony before a performance. There were no permanent chairs, so I was setting up folding chairs. I was the only one up there, but then a friend walked in downstairs and called up to me that she'd be there in a minute. A moment later, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I glanced at it, and saw, not my female friend's hand, but a very masculine hand, ring on the fourth finger. I spun around to see, of course, no one there.

Friends still in the acting troop tell me there's continued activity and many of them have seen or felt him, but for a few years, I was honored to be Marty's main focus.

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